Head of U.S. aid group resigns over handling of sex abuse claim

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 11 October 2019 15:11 GMT

A woman walks along an empty street after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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The chief executive says his "failure to intervene" after a call to a whistleblowers' hotline caused "great harm"

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Oct 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The chief executive of Mercy Corps has resigned over his handling of a child sex abuse allegation made against one of the co-founders of the U.S. humanitarian organisation.

Neal Keny-Guyer said his "failure to intervene" after a call to a whistleblowers' hotline had caused "great harm" to the organisation and he was stepping down with immediate effect.

He stepped down after Tania Culver Humphrey, the daughter of one of Mercy Corps's founders, revealed she had told the charity in the 1990s and again in 2018 that she had been abused by her father.

"My failure to intervene and change the course of how the organization responded to the Humphreys' hotline enquiries in late 2018 has shaken me to my core," Keny-Guyer wrote in a letter of resignation on Thursday.

"I should have done better."

Mercy Corps said its board had accepted Keny-Guyer's resignation and had begun an independent, external review into the handling of the 2018 report and its safeguarding and leadership accountability policies.

"The Mercy Corps board today heard global Mercy Corps employees' demands for accountability and responsibility," it said in a statement.

The decision came after Culver Humphrey waived her right to anonymity to tell a newspaper that her late father had sexually abused her throughout much of her childhood and Mercy Corps had failed to act on her reports of the abuse.

That prompted anger from some staff who had previously been unaware of her complaints and threatened to tarnish the reputation of an organisation that says it has helped more than 220 million people.

The aid sector has come under scrutiny after revelations in 2018 that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during an earthquake relief mission in 2010 snowballed into widespread reports of harassment and abuse in the sector.

The #MeToo social media movement highlighting sexual abuse against women and the #Aid Too campaign have also led to stronger calls for action.

"When even the daughter of a co-founder cannot report his sexual abuses and be heard, what chance the black working class woman in Ethiopia or Pakistan?" said Alexia Pepper de Caires and Shaista Aziz of the NGO Safe Space campaign group.

"The lack of an independent ombudsperson perpetuates the scenario that the sector is accountable only to itself and its supposedly ethical leadership."

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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