OXFAM failed to adequately deal with claims of sexual misconduct including abuse of child helpers in UK charity shops, a former executive has said.
In one case, a shop boss allegedly pressured a teenager to withdraw an assault complaint against an adult volunteer, said Helen Evans, who was head of global safeguarding.
The Labour councillor from Oxford said she discovered to her horror that criminal records checks were not being carried out. She eventually quit in despair as she felt bosses were not taking her warnings about alleged sexual misconduct by staff in Britain and worldwide seriously enough.
She said three complaints received in one day about overseas workers included claims that one coerced a woman into sex in exchange for aid.
Regarding the record checks, Ms Evans told Channel 4 News: ‘The point I made repeatedly was parents are trusting these organisations to keep their children safe when they volunteer. These are 14-year-old children and if parents knew that those adults were not checked they would not be sending those children into those shops.’
Oxfam said last night that record checks had not been a legal requirement but were now in place.
Ms Evans was taken on to address concerns after five staff were sacked or asked to resign for hiring earthquake survivors for sex in Haiti in 2011.
She said, within a year, it became clear that there was a major problem and the results of a confidential survey carried out among workers in three countries in 2014 were ‘very concerning’.
‘We were getting people reporting that they’d witnessed or experienced rape or attempted rape by Oxfam representatives,’ she said. ‘And across the programmes, we had about one in ten staff saying they’d experienced unwanted sexual assault.
‘This was staff on staff. We hadn’t even gone out to beneficiaries who were receiving aid from us. I was extremely, extremely concerned by those survey results.’
Ms Evans said she begged for more resources and asked for an audience with bosses. She added: ‘The response I had back was that they felt that everything that needed to be said had been said in my report.’ Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said sorry to Ms Evans. He said: ‘I certainly apologise for not acting fast enough. I think we did take the concerns seriously and we responded on many different fronts — the records checking was one of them, training was another, the promotion of our helpline was another — she did some great work.
‘What I recognise now, with the severity of issues as they have emerged, is that we should have resourced that team up faster, as we now have done.’
Oxfam’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence quit yesterday over the Haiti scandal.
She admitted responsibility after it emerged the workers who used prostitutes had been accused of doing the same thing during a previous posting in Chad.
‘I am ashamed that this happened on my watch,’ she said.