Penny Lawrence, the deputy chief executive of Oxfam, stepped down Monday in the midst of revelations that the British charity severely mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct against its aid workers in what is the second large-scale sex scandal involving British charities to erupt this year.
As The Guardian explains, Oxfam discovered that staff members working in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake had paid for sex, and some of the sex workers involved were allegedly underage. The country director Roland van Hauwermeiren was implicated in the allegations. Oxfam officials did not, however, report the aid workers to police in Haiti, and did not warn other charities about them when they left the organization. It has also been reported that Oxfam had previously received complaints about van Hauwermeiren and another worker’s behavior in Chad, but nevertheless allowed them to work in Haiti.
According to the BBC, Lawrence said in a statement that she was “ashamed” of the organization’s handling of the scandal. “Concerns were raised about the behavior of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” she said in a statement,” she said. “It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to the behavior of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.”
Hours after Lawrence resigned, Helen Evans, Oxfam’s former head of safeguarding, said that she had warned senior management of a pervasive culture of abuse among Oxfam offices across the globe. In the course of a single day, Evans told the U.K.’s Channel 4, she had received reports “of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another one where it had come to our attention where a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn’t disclosed that and we were then concerned about what he might be doing.”
She also said that staff at U.K. Oxfam stores had been accused of rape and sexual abuse against volunteers, some of whom were underage.
Though Oxfam denies a coverup, the U.K.’s Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry into the organization. Oxfam received £ 34 million (around $47 million) in government funds last year. The European Commission, which also gives the charity £29.3 million (around $40 million) per year, has said that it is considering pulling its funding.
For more on the story, watch the video below.