In 2011, an Oxfam aid worker named Roland van Hauwermeiren and another unidentified employee were removed from their posts amidst accusations of sexual misconduct. The event was immediately brushed under the rug to protect the organization’s reputation, but the charity’s failure to address the men’s behavior sooner has now been made public.
The Sunday Times reported that Van Hauwermeiren was accused by a number of women of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior, including “bullying, harassing and exposing himself.” He was eventually banned from co-ed housing, but was still given the job of a country director in Haiti in 2010, after their catastrophic earthquake. He had been working in Chad, with the other worker—a man from Kenya—who eventually lost his job. They were both accused of hiring sex workers, some of whom may have been under the age of consent.
Van Hauwermeiren had worked in the humanitarian sector since at least 2003, starting with another charity called Merlin, then moving on to work for Oxfam, initially in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Andrew MacLeod, the former chef of operations for the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre, told the Times that “predatory paedophiles” will sometimes seek out charities to “access children,” though no specific ages for the sex workers solicited by Van Hauwermeiren has been listed:
“The impact of sex tourism laws make it unlawful for anybody to have sex with children under the age of 16 anywhere in the world or aid, abet or support that.
“If they are adults, this man should be charged in front of the courts in Haiti because prostitution is illegal. If they are children, they should be charged in front of the courts here because he’s broken the sex tourism laws. If they are uncertain they should pass the dossier to the police for investigation.”
The accused was offered a “phased and dignified” resignation in 2011, as was his unnamed partner in Chad. He went on to work for French charity Action Against Hunger until 2014.
Buzzfeed reports that Oxfam’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence has resigned since it became clear the organization was aware of accusations agains Van Hauwermeiren before sending him to Haiti, saying she was “ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”