Oxfam workers accused of sex with underage prostitutes after Haiti earthquake; Dutch branch shocked

Port-au-Prince Haiti January 20, 2010
Port-au-Prince Haiti January 20, 2010Photo: Colin Crowley / Wikimedia Commons

Aid workers for charity organization Oxfam had sex parties with possibly underage prostitutes in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, and the charity then covered it up, British newspaper The Times reported on Friday. "It came as a shock", a spokesperson of the Dutch branch of the charity, Oxfam Novib, said to the Telegraaf. "Everyone is a bit dazed here."

According to the British newspaper, senior Oxfam staff hired young sex workers in Haiti after the island was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010. The quake left around 300 thousand people dead. Groups of young sex workers were hired to go to sex parties at homes and guesthouses, and paid for by the charity, one source told the newspaper. 

Oxfam launched an internal investigation in 2011, and was unable to rule out that some of the sex workers were underage. The investigation concluded that there was a "culture of impunity", according to the newspaper. The Haitian authorities were never informed about this, and no legal action was taken. According to The Times, Oxfam's country editor Roland van Hauwermeiren resigned after admitting hiring prostitutes, two others also resigned, and another four were fired. 

In response to The Times' report, Oxfam denied covering anything up to protect its reputation. "Oxfam treats any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously", a spokesperson said to AFP. She said that there were allegations that underage girls were involved, but these "were not proven". "A number of staff were dismissed as a result of the investigation and others left the organization before it was completed. The country director took full responsibility for events that took place under his management and was permitted to resign on the basis that he fully cooperated with and supported the investigation."

According to the Oxfam Novib spokesperson, the Dutch executives "undoubtedly" must have seen the report of this investigation. Why nothing was ever said about this, he does not know. "It is not self-evident that you immediately make it public",  he said to the Telegraaf. "Colleagues in England investigated it and also reported it to authorities. After that measures were taken against these people, as you might expect." He added: "I can not say whether these measures were inadequate. For that we have too few details in the Netherlands."

No Dutch people were involved in the sex parties, according to Oxfam Novib. Dutch people did travel to Haiti and back in the aftermath of the earthquake, but they were mainly involved in logistics and collaborations with partners, the spokesperson said. "We have few field employees ourselves. The British branch has a stronger humanitarian department. We mainly support them finanicially." He emphasized that Oxfam Novib finds the orgies unacceptable. "That young women in crisis situations also become victims. Horrible and unacceptable."