Oxfam covered up staff hiring Haitian prostitutes for 'full-on Caligula orgy'

After the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti and killed tens of thousands of people, Oxfam, one of the world’s largest relief organizations, rushed to the scene. But a report in the Times of London last week revealed that staff at Oxfam were organizing what was described as a “full-on Caligula orgy.” From the National Post:

Oxfam was in the midst of a large effort on the island after the quake, which killed more than 200,000 people and left many more injured and displaced. The charity had a fund worth more than $100 million to provide relief supplies and help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure, the Times reported.

The majority of Oxfam’s 230 staff members working in Haiti at the time are not accused of doing anything improper, but a small group of male aid workers living in Delmas, near Port-au-Prince, allegedly turned a rented guesthouse into what a source told the Times the men called “the whorehouse.”

“These girls wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy,” the source told the Times about parties at the house.

In addition to the country director, six other workers left the charity after its internal investigation: Two resigned and four were fired for offenses such as “use of prostitutes on Oxfam property” and possession of pornography, the Times reported. The misconduct also included bullying, harassment and intimidation, the nonprofit said in its statement.

Oxfam said it had not found evidence to back one of the Times’ most explosive claims: that underage girls were involved.

So, the group that covered up the behavior of its own staff now claims there were no underage girls at the orgies. You can take that denial for what it’s worth. The Daily Mail has photos of the “luxury villa” where the parties allegedly took place.

The rot, in this case, appears to have started at the top. Oxfam’s country director Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted to hiring prostitutes in Haiti but was allowed to resign his position in 2011. Sunday, the Guardian reported that there were also allegations of similar behavior when Van Hauwermeiren worked in Chad:

Former staff who worked for the charity in Chad alleged that women believed to be prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house there, with one adding that a senior member of staff had been fired for his behaviour in 2006.

Roland van Hauwermeiren, who has since been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti, was head of Oxfam in Chad at the time. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011, after admitting that prostitutes had visited his villa in Haiti. One former Chad aid worker said on Saturday: “They would invite the women for parties. We knew they weren’t just friends but something else.

The BBC adds that there were people who came forward at the time, but those who did were fired and that encouraged others to remain silent about what was happening.

The former Oxfam employee, whose name has been changed, worked under Mr Van Hauwemeiren at the time and said there was a culture of abuse, which included sexual harassment, in the Port-au-Prince office.

“Powerful people did whatever they wanted and they got away with it,” she tells me in a hotel cafe in the capital, kneading her hands anxiously.

“That’s what I would say, there was no protection for victims.”

Josefine is still too scared to talk freely. She said she raised her concerns once and it cost her her job. It was enough to put her off from trying again.

“People did try [to speak out], there were some good people who tried. But something bigger should have been done so they didn’t go on to get jobs in other places.”

Because of the scandal, Oxfam is now at risk of losing all of its funding from the UK. The charity is claiming this was a case of a few bad apples. But that doesn’t explain how someone like Van Hauwemeiren could survive allegations in Chad and then move on to Haiti or how, after admitting to hiring prostitutes in Haiti he was allowed to resign. He was then hired by another charity to run a relief effort in Bangladesh. That charity was apparently unaware of why he’d actually left Oxfam because Oxfam didn’t want anyone to know.

The whole situation is reminiscent of similar incidents involving UN peacekeepers who created a sex ring in Haiti between 2004 and 2007.