Media coverage and public outrage at the Oxfam scandal involving aid workers paying for prostitutes in Haiti have reached international levels of scale and response.
Speaking at the End Violence Solutions Summit in Stockholm, Penny Mordaunt, called the Oxfam scandal "a wake up call."
"While investigations have to be completed and any potential criminal prosecuted accordingly, what is clear is that the culture that allowed this to happen needs to change and it needs to change now", Penny Mordaunt told a conference in Sweden.
WATCH: International Development Secretary @PennyMordaunt calls for an urgent culture change to tackle sexual exploitation in the aid sector.— DFID (@DFID_UK) February 14, 2018
Watch the full speech at the End Violence Solutions Summit in Stockholm here: https://t.co/HvO5au7P2h #EndViolenceSWE pic.twitter.com/wVqOrBb1fO
Penny Mordaunt has told the international aid community it must make urgent culture changes in its organizations to stamp out sexual abuse and exploitation or face losing support from the British government.
"If we don't want the actions of a minority of individuals to tarnish and endanger all the good work that we do, then we must all respond quickly and appropriately."
One in two children around the world have suffered physical, sexual or emotional violence in the past year. Violence against children must stop now, #EndViolence! https://t.co/lZU7L2ihBe #EndViolenceSWE pic.twitter.com/pzIAVvs4G0
— WHO (@WHO) February 14, 2018
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed 220,000 people; its devastation left 1.5 million people homeless.
Charity Oxfam had a fund of US$ 96 million to rebuild, rehouse and offer relief to Haitians affected by the natural disaster. The aftershock for the international charity came three years later when a member of the team told senior executives to expect a visit from a whistleblower.
Allegations of serious sexual misconduct were kept underground, until they were unearthed by London newspaper The Times eight years after the earthquake erupted.
The allegations concerned the behaviour of a group of male aid workers living in a house funded by charity near Port-au-Prince; they called it 'the whorehouse.'
A source told The Times that the group instructed local drivers working for the charity to bring them girls.
Sources also voiced concerns over the age of the prostitutes used by the aid workers. Some of them were girls aged 14 to 16, despite the charity supporting the UN inter-agency standing committee on protection from sexual abuse which prohibits aid workers paying for sex. By this time, Oxfam's director in Haiti had resigned, six men left, four were dismissed for "use of prostitutes on Oxfam property" and two resigned.
The inquiry into the sexual misconduct in Haiti ended in 2011, the charity issued a statement to the press, admitting some staff had been "involved in a number of instances of misconduct…..allegations that under-age girls may have been involved were not proven."
The Charity Commission told The Times it had not received full details of the Oxfam case. A spokesperson for the UK Government's Department for International Development said:
DfiD has an absolute zero-tolerance of sexual assault or harassment. We expect all our partners to have robust systems in place to prevent such unacceptable behaviour, fully investigate complaints in compliance with the Charity Commission, and support those who have been affected."
.@PennyMordaunt: “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector."— DFID (@DFID_UK) February 11, 2018
More than 1,000 people have cancelled their regular donations to Oxfam since the scandal emerged, actor Minnie Driver; an ambassador for the charity has publicly withdrawn her support.
"All I can tell you about this awful revelation about Oxfam is that I am devastated…for all the women who were used by people sent there to help them," she tweeted.
All I can tell you about this awful revelation about Oxfam is that I am devastated.Devastated for the women who were used by people sent there to help them, devastated by the response of an organization that I have been raising awareness for since I was 9 years old #oxfamscandal— Minnie Driver (@driverminnie) February 13, 2018
The online response to the sexual abuse scandal engulfing one of the world's most famous charities is predictably varied, with supporters suggesting donations should not be stopped and that people still benefiting from charity aid shouldn't pay the price for the behaviour of aid workers.
Meanwhile it's widely thought the Oxfam scandal is the tip of the iceberg of what the public is yet to learn about the aid sector and what can happen in chaotic situations, ravaged by war, natural disasters or famine.
#Oxfam is the tip of the iceberg — I've heard of many INGO and UN staff using sex workers, abusing children, stealing money, etc. Almost always they are protected by the orgs in question. The aid work community badly needs its #metoo moment 1/2— Ciaran O'Reilly (@CiaranOhReally) February 13, 2018
1) The #Oxfam prostitution scandal does not surprise me. I was raised all over the world by frontline aid workers and am used to the humanitarian industry being staffed by bizarre, narcissistic people.— Isabel Robeson (@robesonblogs) February 12, 2018
Members of the public donate or bequeath more than £US$138 million a year to Oxfam.
In 2011 a group of oxfam workers in Haiti crossed a line.
It was investigated and they were dismissed or resigned.
Now seven years later as Rees-Mogg delivers a petition to cut aid funding the story breaks. How strange. Flour, oil, salt
and clean water saves lives.
— peter (@downthetunnel) February 14, 2018
Jacob Rees-Mogg millionaire joins Daily Express to demand govt slash foreign aid.— Dr Lauren Gavaghan #NHSLove (@DancingTheMind) February 11, 2018
Oxfam on front pages potentially losing millions in govt DFID funding.
The depravity of some aid workers must be investigated & action taken.
But other agendas at play here too.#marr pic.twitter.com/42FiDRonHB