Why this story matters:
The Oxfam scandal has raised an ethical discussion in Britain on the responsibilities of aid workers, and whether charity employees should be able to freely use sex workers while on work-related travels.
Some say the use of sex workers while on a humanitarian mission is unacceptable. Others have asked whether paying a prostitute in Chad or Haiti is any different from paying for one in the UK. For many, this situation is about an abuse of authority, similar to that of Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.
The debate over sex work has long-divided the feminist movement. (I know I've felt conflicted about women being bought and sold for sex.) Some women's rights advocates wholly oppose the concept of prostitution, given threats such as trafficking and women's health. Others support decriminalizing prostitution, saying women should be free to choose how they make money.
It's not clear whether the women at the centre of the Oxfam scandal were exploited. But it's clear that people in positions of authority need to be held accountable. Given that the fallout from the Weinstein sexual harassment reckoning focused on famous, glamorous victims, it's time to start considering the exploitation of women who are unknown, impoverished and working in the shadows.
Details from the story:
- British-founded Oxfam allegedly covered up details of a report that revealed several members of staff had paid for sex and engaged in abusive behaviour in Haiti and Chad.
- A senior aid official central to the Oxfam sex scandal had previously been forced out of another charity in Liberia for using sex workers and hosting "sex parties."
- Oxfam stands to lose millions of pounds in government backing and public donations over the case, which has been covered extensively by the UK press.
- A former member of staff for Oxfam said it is a "sector-wide problem", according to The Guardian.
- The Associated Press published an investigation saying that 134 Sri Lankan United Nations peacekeepers operated a child sex ring in Haiti for three years with impunity.
- International aid group Médecins sans Frontières said it acted on 24 cases of sexual abuse and harassment and sacked 19 of its workers last year as a result.
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