The #MeToo movement has shone light on sexual misconduct in dozens on industries—movie producers, high-ranking politicians, billionaires, Oscar-winners, and rock stars have all paid the price for their past actions. Now the charity sector—one which lives and dies on public trust—finds itself in crisis after a catalogue of shocking allegations.
Oxfam, Save The Children, and the widow of murdered British politician Jo Cox—who established two charities in her name—have all been thrown into turmoil this month by allegations which may well have caused irreparable damage to their reputations and even the charity sector as a whole.
Oxfam—a global anti-poverty charity—has been responsible for the vast majority of damning reports on charities this month.
Since the Times of London first published allegations that charity bosses paid for "full-on Caligula orgies" with survivors of the Haiti earthquake, Oxfam has lost 7,000 donors, its deputy chief executive quit, and it has been suspended from applying for government funding until it can prove that it's cleaned up its act.
Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Oxfam, was hauled in front of a committee in the British parliament on Tuesday to face questioning from lawmakers on sexual exploitation in the charity industry. Goldring admitted that, since the initial scandal, the charity has received a further 26 reports of sexual misconduct and mishandling of safeguarding cases.
Goldring has shown an apparent lack of understanding at the severity of the allegations and the damage done to the charity. Last week he claimed that the reports on Oxfam had been out of proportion and had taken quotes out of context, before saying: "The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?"
The British government has accused the charity of covering up the Haiti allegations—and, subsequently, similar accusations in the African Republic of Chad. Speaking in the British parliament on Tuesday, the U.K. government's international development secretary accused Oxfam of "quite possibly deliberately" misleading governments, police, and the public.
“Even as their report concluded that their investigation could not rule out the allegation that some of the women involved were actually children, they did not think it was necessary to report it to the police," said Penny Mourdant MP.
“I believe their motivation appears to be just the protection of the organisation’s reputation. They put that before those they were there to help and protect—a complete betrayal of trust. A betrayal too of those who sent them there—the British people—and a betrayal of all those Oxfam staff and volunteers who do put the people they serve, first.”
Even as Mourdant was speaking in the British House of Commons, further charity allegations broke about Save The Children. Its former chief executive Justin Forsyth—currently deputy executive director at Unicef—was revealed to have faced three seperate allegations of inapporpriate behaviour towards female staff before he left the charity.
Forsyth apologized for his conduct which included sending inappropriate texts to female employees and commenting on what they were wearing. He admitted that he'd had "unsuitable and thoughtless conversations" but said that he thought the matter had been "closed many years ago." Unicef said it was considering "appropriate action" against him.
Former Save The Children executive Brendan Cox—the widow of murdered British MP Jo Cox—has also been forced to apologize for "inappropriate" conduct while he was at the company, saying he "made mistakes." However, he denied further allegations of a sexual assault in a Harvard bar in 2015. Cox has quit the two charities he set up in his wife's name.
Cox said: "In the past I have focused on disputing what I felt was untrue in the allegations, but I realise now that it's more important to take full responsibility for what I have done."
Another notorious British charity group, known as the Presidents Club, was shut down in January after the Financial Times went undercover at its men-only fundraising dinner where young hostesses were allegedly groped, harassed and propositioned by guests.
But the cases which have been made public appear to be the tip of the iceberg. In the wake of the Oxfam scandal, the U.K. charity regulator revealed that it receives over 1,000 incident reports over the protection of children and vulnerable people every year.
Mordaunt's predecessor, Priti Patel MP, has been highly candid about her experiences with the charity sector, and hinted there are far more damaging revelations to come about current and historical actions.
“There has been in my view, not just a cover-up with Oxfam, there is a denial, a culture of denial in the aid sector about the exploitation and sexual abuse that has taken place historically for decades,” said the former international development secretary.
Sexual harassment crises have hit many industries since the first Harvey Weinstein allegations broke in October but, without a robust response to a rapidly-growing catalogue of allegations and admissions, the charity sector—which relies on public trust and is held to a higher standard than others—could soon find itself the hardest hit of all.