Monday 23 April 2018

Scale of Oxfam abuse has stunned the world

Jimmy Saville
Jimmy Saville

Patricia Casey

The list of official bodies, charities and institutions who have been found wanting in their treatment of vulnerable people is dismally long. Sometimes it involves children and in others the victims are young destitute adults working as prostitutes, as reported in Haiti.

No longer confined to clerics, those working in the media and in the entertainment industry have been identified as sexual predators. Most notorious are Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris. Charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children have also been accused, while a former Unicef children's rights campaigner, Peter Newell (77), was this month sent to prison for raping a boy of 13 back in the 1960s.

Newell had helped Unicef prepare an implementation manual on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1998 - this is still in use globally by various UN agencies, human rights organisations and academics. He also led an anti-smacking campaign in Britain.

Irish charities are not immune either and Trocaire, Goal and Concern are reported to have fired several aid workers in recent years. It is unclear if the police/gardai were informed.

Then there was the ITV documentary about boarding-school abuse in the UK, shown last week, in which teachers who were predators were simply moved to another school.

Sports coaches and the Scouts have also had people implicated in sexually abusing children.

But it is the scale of the abuse within Oxfam that has stunned the world. Last year there were 87 complaints of sexual abuse, including the use of prostitutes and food for sex in Haiti, while Save the Children face 31 complaints of sexual impropriety, the most notable being Brendan Cox, the husband of the late labour party MP Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016.

He stands accused of sexually harassing two women when he worked for that organisation in 2015 and of forcing himself on a woman during a trip to Harvard. We now learn that the organisation never informed the Department for International Development of the alleged misconduct.

The charity has said that reporting such matters to the responsible government department would not have been standard practice at that time, although they were reported to the Charity Commission, who have yet to be questioned.

The cloak of altruism seems to provide cover for many who have either pedophilic tendencies or who opportunistically sexually target vulnerable people. Seeming to care for those who are poor, hungry or destitute is likely to win admiration from the naive observer. All charities have a majority who are genuinely dedicated to the cause of helping others but the damage done by abusers detracts from this.

Why are the minority who abuse not rooted out and reported to relevant authorities? Many in high places believe that they can act as they please, with impunity. The tyranny of the strong over the weak is a callous, age-old phenomenon.

Others wish to protect the organisation they represent, fearing the loss and admiration of their donors and of the population at large. Some most likely do not care and are working, not because of concern for humanity, but simply for money. It is also the case that some cynically seek work of this sort since it provides ready access to children or vulnerable adults.

If such evil is to be quashed then the media, the public and those who genuinely care about the vulnerable must seek the most rigorous scrutiny of anybody wishing to work in such organisations. When violations are suspected they must be reported and investigated and if found guilty the perpetrator must be named and must face the consequences.

In the past, the public was rightly projecting all its anger on to the Church for such exploitation. But it is clear that this abuse of power extends to other professions and organisations. It is time for the media to step up and assertively report any such transgressions even when they may have been committed by "media darlings".

All abuse of vulnerable people is despicable and reprehensible.

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