Oxfam and sex
This news story is developing every day. These thoughts may have been overtaken by events by the time you read them.
It is alleged that while working in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, some fairly high-ranking Oxfam employees had sex with prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti. It isn’t clear whether any of the women were underage. On discovering this, Oxfam sacked some but allowed others to resign, and then were less than fully frank about the matter in their reports to the Charity Commission.
These revelations have caused quite a brouhaha.
We can probably all agree that:
- if prostitution is indeed illegal in Haiti, these men (I’m assuming men?) were breaking the law of the land in which they were guests, and this is itself deplorable and probably a sackable offence;
- although not wanting to “wash one’s dirty linen in public” is a very understandable and indeed legitimate desire, full disclosure should always be made to regulators;
- it seems very clear that issues of transparency and safeguarding (possibly also salaries and recruitment procedures) in the world of aid and overseas assistance need a thorough overhaul;
- the purposes and effectiveness of aid needs to be constantly reviewed;
- the practice of “allowing people to resign”, although very widely practised by employers everywhere, is murky and open to horrendous abuse;
- anyone who wishes to pay for sex has an overriding moral duty to be sure that the woman or boy isn’t underage (and to know the local law on this);
- many prostitutes throughout the world have been trafficked or otherwise forced by other people into the trade;
- women in countries that have just suffered a devastating natural disaster are particularly vulnerable to offers of sex for money or food;
- many people believe that using prostitutes (I prefer the less loaded and dehumanising phrase “paying sex workers”) is inherently exploitative and evil.
I think we’d all agree with all the above, wouldn’t we?
But I am intrigued by the way that this story is being reported as if “sexual abuse” and “sexual misconduct” were easily definable, and the same thing. “Sexual misconduct”, in particular – what’s that?
From the beginning of time, men have sought relief from very stressful occupations (such as war) by having available sex. I even refer to this, as it happens, in “The Tenth Province of Jaryar.” Dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster is likely to be a stressful occupation.
The implication seems to be that of course Oxfam’s employees should not have been relaxing in this way. Even if it was their own money, and in their own time, and even if prostitution had been legal in Haiti, which it isn’t.
Because paying for sex is immoral.
Of course, I agree with this. But then I take the fairly traditional line that any sexual intercourse outside of marriage, or a relationship very similar to marriage, is immoral. I had thought until recently that my view was rather old-fashioned.
I do not agree (with lots of caveats about consent) that paying a sex worker is necessarily more immoral than having a one-night stand. Arguably there is less danger of deliberately or accidentally raising false expectations with a sex worker, who knows the deal.
I certainly do not agree that paying a sex worker is more immoral than cheating on your spouse, which is adultery.
Or that it is more immoral than dumping your spouse because you’ve found someone more attractive, which Jesus also called adultery (Luke 16:18).
How many of the journalists and politicians who are leaping up to condemn Oxfam have done any of these things?
I feel that the moral disgust being shown here is partly because we elevate aid workers to a level of secular holiness, if you like, that means their private lives, even when they’re far from home and in distressing circumstances, should be squeaky-clean and saintly. There is no obvious reason for this.
My second point is simple. Let’s not forget that some of those leading the condemnation may have their own agendas when it comes to overseas aid and development.
Love from the PPI Blogger