As a scandal involving, as of now, the use of prostitutes by Oxfam Great Britain employees in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti unfolds, it’s unclear exactly what further investigation will turn up. Seven Oxfam GB employees were fired as the result of an internal investigation in 2011, but aside from vague allegations of hiring prostitutes, that report has remained internal.
But, leaks have a way of making their way to the press. That includes one allegation that video footage showed Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti, engaging in what would be considered an orgy, though he has denied these claims, dismissing them as “absolute nonsense”.
But Mr. Hauwermeiren, even if he hasn’t engaged in the act as described in a leak to a British newspaper, must understand that his actions in Haiti open him up to all kinds of justified speculation, and that people will assume the worst considering the circumstances. Haiti’s history of abuse and exploitation by those professing to help the nation in the wake of disaster is the rule, not the exception. According to World Atlas, Haiti is the 18th poorest country in the world, which means that its people are desperate to make money any way they can. For many, that includes the sex trade.
And – this is the reality that makes most fear the worst from the yet-to-be-disclosed details – it’s common knowledge that children in Haiti being sold and abused as sex slaves is not rare. Prices for child sex slaves can be as little as $70, and their handlers almost certainly see foreign aid workers as some of the most well-to-do potential clients they will ever encounter. Surely Oxfam officials dispatched to Haiti are aware of this stomach-turning black market trade. Surely they were briefed not to engage any prostitutes, especially considering the age of a given sex worker may likely be far less than 18.
Quite frankly, “aid workers” such as Roland van Hauwermeiren – one of the highest-ranking members of Oxfam GB in Haiti – should not have to be briefed to know how wrong his actions were, whether they are as he has categorized them or not.
The commonplace nature of prostitution in Haiti adds another level of stench to the scandal which Oxfam Great Britain finds itself currently embroiled in. Anybody who purchases the services of a prostitute in Haiti, especially in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, has to be aware that they are preying on desperation. To dismiss this case as the typical, victim-less use of prostitutes is to be completely ignorant of geopolitics and socioeconomics.
But the tone of Oxfam leadership makes it clear why further investigation into the specifics and extent of how many and in what manner Oxfam volunteers used prostitutes in Haiti is necessary.
The Haitian government, inept and notoriously corrupt as it is has suspended Oxfam Great Britain from operating on the island. It was recently discovered that Oxfam never made Haitian officials aware of the allegations levied in 2010 and 2011, which is yet another indicator of how little regard charities including Oxfam have shown for the wellbeing of the Haitian people they are professing to help.
But, while Haiti clearly takes the allegations seriously enough to cut off one source of aid, Oxfam Great Britain’s lieutenants don’t see what the big deal is.
“The intensity and the ferocity of the attack make you wonder, what did we do?” Oxfam Britain CEO Mark Goldring said in an interview with The Guardian.
“We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it.” (thejournal.ie)
Mark Goldring is quite the PR savant. When faced with allegations of potentially widespread sexual exploitation of what are likely young girls in the wake of one of the worst earthquakes in modern history, compare it to killing babies to establish a little bit of perspective. Keep in mind that Goldring testified in front of Parliament that there had been 26 reported cases of sexual misconduct, that he knows of, related to Oxfam employees in Haiti. And that’s from an Oxfam internal investigation plagued by allegations of witness intimidation, so who knows just how many cases would or will be exposed through honest investigation.
The callous, tone-deaf nature of Goldring’s comments are nothing short of chilling. But, they are far from the only indication of just how unfit Oxfam, in its current leadership structure, currently is to be administering “aid” anywhere.
The organization has reportedly lost donors in droves. Good, that’s the least of what the “charity” deserves for a) employing individuals who would think it appropriate to fund the Haitian prostitution market in the wake of a tragedy, b) allowing these abuses to go unreported both to the Haitian government and the public and, c) responding flippantly and dismissively, and in some cases threateningly, when the public did finally find out about the scandal.
Surely there are plenty of real, honest charities whose volunteers and employees don’t act as Oxfam’s have. But if you were a Haitian who has been burned time and again by wolves in sheep’s clothing, you’d be justified in not believing such char