By Sarina Rivlin-Sanders
The International Red Cross: “A betrayal of the people and communities we are there to serve.” Plan International UK: “The painful but important truth to acknowledge is that sometimes things can go wrong.” Heads of 22 charities: “There can be no tolerance for the abuse of power.”
Gifts from donors may have been directly funding these horrendous abuses of power
Contrast these words with those of some of the people who lost everything in the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. “After the earthquake, you would see [foreign aid workers] asking for sex in exchange for supplies. I never did it, but I saw some people who did.” Or another woman driven to desperation by her need to protect her young child. “I cry a lot and I pray.”
Even more horrifying than these abuses of power are allegations that some of the people involved in sexual acts, which may have occurred in property owned by or paid for by the charities, were underage.
The prevalence of these outrageous acts is evidence that some charities are endangering the lives of those they ought to be helping. It also suggests that gifts from well-intentioned donors, transferred to charity employees, may have been directly funding these horrendous abuses of power. In their investigation into Oxfam’s actions in Haiti, which triggered this wave of revelations about the charity sector, The Times claimed there was a “culture of impunity” in Haiti – a damning statement.
Oxfam has lost over 7,000 reoccuring donations
The uncomfortable reality of human nature is that power corrupts and that some people, out of tens of thousands of aid workers, may act morally, reprehensibly. However, if there was wider complicity, if the charitable organisations involved worked not to expose the abuses of power, as they might in another government, but rather to hide them, then that suggests an even more serious institution of abuse.
In response to this, the Haitian government has announced a two-month suspension of Oxfam Great Britain’s permission to operate in the country, pending further investigation into the “serious crimes” committed. Their statement decried Oxfam’s actions and said the Government is “shocked at the highest level”. It seems that shock, in fact, affects every level.
Since The Times published the allegations of the cover-up, Oxfam has lost over 7,000 recurring donations. 1% of charities command over half of donations in the UK and it is many of those who have come under fire. While some people may have simply redirected their donation to a more reputable source there is a concern that donations overall may fall. Hence the charities renewed commitment to safeguarding.
We must be certain that charities have made a real change
We must be certain that charities have made real change to ensure that not only a cover-up, but the abuses of power that necessitated it, will in future be stopped before they can begin. The help that charities can bring however should not necessarily be disregarded and we need to find a way for charities to actively engage in these countries while overcoming this legacy of abuse.
Photogtaph: Amy Nelson via Flickr