Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s deputy chief executive, has resigned amid the sex crimes scandal that has rocked the charitable organization. Lawrence stepped down on February 12, 2018, saying she was “ashamed” the prostitution scandal had occurred on her watch.
Oxfam, one of the world’s most prominent relief agencies, could lose its funding from the British government over allegations its workers exploited survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti for sex. Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s deputy chief executive, was the program director for the organization’s Chad and Haiti relief efforts.
A media investigation accused Oxfam’s then-country director in Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, and other workers of running an illegal, makeshift brothel in a rented villa.
It’s also been alleged that Oxfam staff used sex workers in Chad in 2006.
Penny Lawrence “Desperately Sorry”
“Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behavior of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” Lawrence said.
“It is now clear that these allegations—involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behavior of both the country director and members of his team in Chad—were raised before he moved to Haiti.
“I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam’s supporters, the wider development sector, and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us.”
Penny Lawrence is the first executive at Oxfam to quit after the scandal and allegations of a cover-up came to light. Another report has claimed that Oxfam failed to warn other organizations about the alleged abuses, allowing some of the accused to get jobs at other aid agencies.
Ex-Secretary Says She Sounded Alarm on Oxfam
Former British International Development Secretary Priti Patel has accused senior civil servants of ignoring abuse claims leveled against charity workers.
Patel, who resigned from the Department for International Development in 2017, warned in an article that the Oxfam scandal is just the “tip of the iceberg.” She also alleged that the government knew about the sexual abuse and that there was a “culture of denial” in the aid sector.
For its part, Oxfam has promised to conduct an internal review and overhaul. That might not be enough, however. There is evidence to suggest that Oxfam tried to cover up the sexual exploitation allegations by letting van Hauwermeiren quietly resign in 2011 after he admitted to using prostitutes.
The majority of Oxfam workers in Haiti are not accused of doing anything improper. Instead, the allegations fall on a small number of male aid workers who lived in Delmas, near Port-au-Prince. They allegedly turned a rented guesthouse into what the men called “the whorehouse.”
According to a whistleblower, “These girls wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked. It was like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy.”
It has also been alleged that some of the exploited locals might have been under the age of consent.