Charity Commission receives 80 cases in wake of Oxfam sex scandal

5 March 2018, 10:25

The charities' watchdog has received reports of 80 current and historical cases of safeguarding concerns - including child sex abuse - since the Oxfam scandal broke.

Last month, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt wrote to 179 aid organisations and charities to demand assurances they are taking steps to prevent abuse of vulnerable people.

Of those, 26 charities have made serious incident reports to the Charity Commission, totalling 80 incidents "broadly related" to safeguarding issues and covering "a wide spectrum" of alleged incidents.

Seven of those organisations presented cases that have been reported within the current financial year.

The reports are now being assessed by the Charity Commission's new taskforce, with the detail of the allegations or the charities involved not being revealed.

The watchdog also disclosed, beyond those charities Ms Mordaunt wrote to, they have seen "broadly a doubling of serious incident reporting compared to usual levels", in the wake of allegations against Oxfam last month.

"We are now receiving around 100 a week, and the increase relates specifically to reports of safeguarding issues or incidents, again covering a wide spectrum in terms of their nature and levels of seriousness," a spokesperson said.

These are also being assessed by the taskforce.

Ms Mordaunt, speaking at a safeguarding summit on Monday, described it as a "wake up call" for charities and aid organisations.

On 9 February, The Times newspaper first published allegations that Oxfam covered up claims that senior aid workers had used prostitutes, some of whom may have been underage, while responding to Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010.

The scandal sparked a series of further allegations against Oxfam along with other charities and aid organisations.

Ms Mordaunt said: "My message to those who have sought to exploit this sector and the human tragedy in which it operates, is this - we will all share information we have with law enforcement.

"We will find you. We will bring you to justice. Your time is up."

Ms Mordaunt added her department "will put in place new, enhanced and specific safeguarding standards" for those organisations they work with, which will determine whether they receive Government funding.

"These standards will include an assessment of codes of conduct, how organisations identify and respond to incidents, and how their risk management places safeguarding and beneficiaries at the very core," she said.

"That assessment will set the bar at a level of the very best - a bar that we will continue to push higher - from our work here today and in the time to come.

"Our standards will be world-leading. They will be tough and exacting. Organisations should not bid for new funding unless they are prepared to meet these tough new standards.

"We will not approve funds to them unless they pass our new standards.

"We will also start to apply these new standards to organisations we have ongoing work with."

Oxfam, which received £31.7m from the Government last year, has announced it will not bid for any new Government contracts in the wake of its scandal.

The Cabinet minister also asked if the Oxfam scandal - or claims women in Syrian refugee camps were forced to offer sexual favours in return for UN aid - would have persisted if "victims' voices were listened to".

"We need to find a way to hear the voices of the people we serve, so we can respond when they tell us they are being mistreated," she said.

Also speaking at the summit, newly-appointed Charity Commission chair Baroness Stowell said the watchdog is "committed to working constructively" with Ms Mordaunt's department and charities to "identify practical solutions to stop sexual exploitation and abuse"; as well as "drive up safeguarding standards and - crucially - to rebuild public trust".

"As we now look ahead, it's vital we don't allow the shorthand, technocratic word of "safeguarding" to let us forget what the failings are that we are talking about," she said.

"And in this context, it is aid workers sexually abusing the most desperate and vulnerable people they were sent to support.

"In some cases, your own staff and volunteers taken advantage of by those in positions of trust and power.

"And charities abusing their trusted status by failing to put the welfare of the blameless ahead of their corporate reputation."