Sometimes we deride our friends on the left for what Dickens, in Bleak House, memorably dubbed the “telescopic philanthropy” of Mrs. Jellyby, the matron who teemed with plans to alleviate the misery of people thousands of miles away but proved blind to the suffering on her own street in London. That’s not how it works at the British charity behemoth Oxfam, though. When the cry for help goes out, these chaps pack up, parachute in, and immediately snap into action — by setting up a cathouse and enlisting the victims as their prostitutes.
Oxfam — which combines the disaster-relief apparatus of the Red Cross, the junk-shop retail network of the Salvation Army, and the fix–the–Third World–on–your–gap–year idealism of the Peace Corps, all puffed up with a degree of sanctimony that would make Elizabeth Warren blush — is the face of British charity, a synonym for selfless do-gooderism. When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Oxfam workers remembered Rahm Emanuel’s maxim that, in the progressive dictionary, one definition of crisis is “party time.” I’m paraphrasing.
But I’m quoting directly when I note that Oxfam execs set up brothels in Port-au-Prince that they called “pink apartments.” They took advantage of the economic dislocation and desperation (1.5 million homeless in a land of 10 million) to surround themselves with prostitutes, some perhaps under the age of consent, according to a recent exposé in the British paper the Times. Recalls an observer: “They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues.’”
Drivers in Haiti who wished to earn cash driving Oxfam employees around were told that their contracts were contingent on whether they could help with the, er, meat supply. “If you want your contract to be extended,” they were told, according to the Times, “we need girls and you need to pick them up.”
Oxfam executives concealed the details from regulators and the public, which contributes large sums both directly and through U.K.-government aid that totaled some $40 million last year. The impression was created that Oxfam workers had gotten a bit fresh with one another, not that they had turned Haitian earthquake victims into their sex dolls. International-development secretary Penny Mordaunt said on the BBC that Oxfam had denied to her department that any misbehavior on the part of Oxfam staff had affected its beneficiaries. Was this a lie? “Well, quite,” Mordaunt said. Mordaunt suggested that the government will yank Oxfam’s funding unless the outfit convinces her that it has installed “moral leadership at the top of the organization.”
Hang on, Oxfam is a bit lacking when it comes to moral leadership? Isn’t Oxfam supposed to be rather above average when it comes to moral leadership? Isn’t it in fact one of those outfits that purport to provide moral leadership for the world? “It disturbs us that in a world as rich as ours, many of us go hungry or don’t have clean water,” reads a statement on the Oxfam website. “Many of us can’t claim our human rights. It’s wrong. And together we aim to do what’s right.”
It turns out that hiding a flesh emporium inside a relief effort works much the same way as the Harveywood mega-scandal. Men behave badly and get away with it, time and again. Women cheer them on (literally, as when Meryl Streep leaped to her feet to join in a standing ovation for Roman Polanski at the 2003 Oscars) or cover up. Roland van Hauwermeiren, a Belgian who headed Oxfam’s relief operations in Haiti and is at the center of the prostitute-the-peasantry scandal, had also been accused of employing the locals as prostitutes in a similar role in 2006 in Chad, where Oxfam was helping refugees from the civil war in Sudan. Instead of throwing him out the window for all this, then-CEO Barbara Stocking let him stroll out the door in what an internal report called a “phased and dignified exit” on his way to another cushy job with a French foreign-aid charity called Action Against Hunger.
How did we get to a point where relentlessly idealistic and progressive feminist women cover for men who turn girls from some of the poorest corners of the world into their sexual functionaries? Oxfam reminds us that a core feature of the Left is its happy-face Machiavellianism: The overall mission is so vital, so meaningful, so just, that the end justifies the obscene. It was in the Guardian (naturally) that a former Oxfam flack, Shaista Aziz, offered some insight into how loving the world can look an awful lot like taking sexual advantage of the most helpless individuals in it. What happened in Haiti was unsurprising to Aziz because, in her 15 years working for Oxfam and similar outfits, she found “a culture where bullying was rife, women were frequently belittled, and racism was casual.” Now she tells us! For a former “communications specialist,” she was about as communicative as a Mafia foot soldier. Whenever she mentioned a problem to her superiors, “I was made into the problem.”
So why didn’t she go over their heads? Why did she never tell, say, the Guardian what she knew? Aziz frankly and startlingly admits that however horrible the doings within Big Charity, the unspoken rule is that the outside world must be kept in the dark. “There is a fear,” she writes, “that if we tell the truth, the reputational damage to the agencies will benefit the sections of the press and politicians who want to reform the sector.” Reform! Anything but that.