Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam’

Requiem

April 28, 2017

My heart is a going pitter patter reading the letter again, reliving it all. No. My heart is racing like a jack hammer! Remembering. A sexual assault. By my manager. Samuel Musa. While working at Oxfam GB.

That was in August 2010. I wrote the letter below to Barbara Stocking in desperation more than a year later.

Just like I searched desperately for legal support in Nigeria and when I couldn’t find any I went to search the UK in 2012. I spoke to so many lawyers. Every last  one of them asked me whether I had worked in the UK.

“I was based in Abuja. The only time I came to the UK was for that country directors conference where the assault happened.”

And they all said –

“Sorry. You’re not eligible to appear before the UK employment tribunal.”

Eventually I found a UK lawyer that said she might have been able to help me  but….

…we were already just days away from the statute of limitations for sexual assault. There was no way she could prepare and file the paper work in time.

I let it go then. Focused on putting myself back together again. It wasn’t the first time that man woman palaver (as we euphemistically call it in Nigeria) had terminated my job.

So this is the letter I wrote to Barbara Stocking after they confirmed my termination, as I was facing the loss of my home – after losing my job, my dad, my cat, my dog, my self esteem, my confidence. 

I stumbled across it looking for something else all together and it all just came back. I’d pushed the whole incident to the far recesses of my mind.  (My therapist gonna have something to say about that.) At first I cringed thinking maybe I was whining in the letter but as I read it I started to feel kinda good. I wrote from my heart. I spoke my truth. That’s all. Nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

 

April 28, 2012

Dear Barbara,

It’s over a year now since I left your employ. I don’t know if you even noticed. Oxfam GB is such a big place. I don’t imagine you could possibly keep up with all your employees and I wasn’t there long enough. It wasn’t till my orientation at Oxford office in August 2010, almost 10 months after I started working for you that I actually started to understand the organization and my role. One important lesson I take away from my experience at Oxfam GB is to orient employees quickly, capably and to install controls to make sure the system works.

But that’s not why I write you. I’m writing to you because I believe the woman I met in August 2010 is a just, fair and above all compassionate person. There was nothing fair, just or compassionate about the way I was summarily dismissed from Oxfam GB in November 2010 or the way I was treated during my subsequent appeal. I tried so hard to reach Penny Lawrence. I remember her telling us during the orientation that she was always available to help and advice us with our problems and issues. She never spoke to me.

The 2 week visit in August 2010, my first to the UK was also where my trouble started. My line manager Mr. Samuel Musa, deputy regional director for West Africa at the time sexually assaulted me in his hotel room. Worried that my job, my working relationships and Oxfam GBs reputation could be in jeopardy, I didn’t listen to advice of friends to report the incident to the police. Instead I went to Martin Knops to treat my own pain and trauma and on his advice reported the incident to Catherine Layton then in the Human Resource department. I told her I was reporting ‘just in case’ Samuel tried to victimize me I wanted someone to know..

I realize now I should have made that report for a number of reasons. After all it wasn’t sexual harassment I was reporting. I was reporting a crime; sexual assault is after all a criminal offence. Of course all of us worked for Oxfam. Neither Catherine nor Martin suggested I report to the police. Catherine actually advised I speak to Samuel. Which I did. Eventually. It was almost a month later before I was able to talk to him on the phone about it. I told Catherine about the call. Because I had asked for assurance during the call and he didn’t give any I followed up with an email. He ignored it.

It had taken a whole lot of effort on my part to talk to him about it in the first place. I wasn’t comfortable raising the issue with him again. I did discuss with Catherine how we could address institutional sexual harassment. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of behavior in Oxfam GB’s Africa offices that would easily qualify for sexual harassment in the west and UK. I wasn’t the only victim. I felt that as Oxfam GB’s gender lead in West Africa I could have a wider institutional impact on the matter instead of making it all about me. I also didn’t want to be the lone female shouting ‘rape’. I had a lot of confused feelings.

Of course I was deeply traumatized by the experience. It was difficult working with Samuel after that. I had flash backs every time I saw an email from him, or had to speak with him on the phone and when I saw him late September in Dakar. I tried to be brave and strong but I was really uncomfortable and jumpy. Still with Catherine’s question about whether he knew his attention was unwanted ringing in my head I reiterated to him again I did not want his attention and asked for assurance he would never try to ‘make a pass at me’ again. But he didn’t make a pass at me the first time, it wasn’t a seduction or a wooing or ongoing sexual harassment at work; it was a traumatic and unexpected physical attack.

I ignored my pain and stepped up my efforts at work with some idea that if I just did my best my job would be safe. With 20/20 hind sight I see my mistake. There is no way I could have spoken to him about the incident in the terms that I did that he could do other than try to get rid of me as soon as possible. Anything else would have been literally working under the threat of an imminent report from me. Still I hoped, this was Oxfam GB after all, an international humanitarian agency with rules, surely I was safe.

On November 23, 2010, a Wednesday, Samuel Musa arrived Abuja from Dakar and handed me a letter summarily terminating my contract without reason. He gave me 2 days notice to vacate the office premises and immediately repossessed all Oxfam GB equipment including laptop and handsets making it difficult for me to reach anybody within the organization. My employment contract governed by Nigerian Law says that summary dismissal is in accordance with internal guidelines. Under these guidelines I am entitled to a weeks’ notice that I am being considered for summary dismissal. Under Nigerian law I am entitled to two weeks’ notice.

The law wasn’t upmost on my mind when I received the letter of termination. I was distraught that I was about to lose my job at the hands of the man who had sexually assaulted me less than 3 months before. I was in no emotional state for the appeal and under too much emotional distress by then to focus on that. The entire process became a sexual harassment investigation rather than an appeal of my wrongful termination. At the end of the emotionally devastating process where I had to re-live my assault again I was informed there was no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault and my dismissal was in accordance with Nigerian law. That’s all.

Kathleen McGarva who handled my sexual assault complaint and my appeal (I wonder if that was proper?) decided that the email I wrote to Samuel and my correspondence with Catherine Layton and Martin Knops were not sufficient corroboration of my story and chose to accept Samuel’s version of the story which had even less corroboration than mine. He admitted I was in his room but unsurprisingly denied the course of events or that we went up together. He further claimed he ignored my email because he didn’t know what I was talking about. After denying my appeal Katherine said Oxfam GB would talk to him to find out how he could have handled the situation better. That sounded a lot like I was the lying trouble maker.

In April 2011 I finally wrote Katherine asking about the outcome of that exercise with Samuel. Was he punished? Was he queried? Was he reprimanded? I received her response on April 6, 2011 a Wednesday and was considering my reaction to send the following Monday when I was informed on Saturday April 9, 2011 my father died. I never did get a chance to react to Katherine’s last email after that news.

Katherine’s April email suggested that Oxfam GB were not interested in getting rid of a sexual predator in their employ much less how his actions had affected me or what I was going through personally. Oxfam GB seemed more interested in protecting themselves and I was the villain not the victim but it happened to me so I know what happened. In August 2011 I came to the UK and filed a criminal incident report with the Thames Valley Police accusing Samuel Musa of criminal sexual assault. They believed me but needed corroborating evidence to successfully prosecute. They also said if I had reported earlier there could have requested the hotels CCTV footage for corroboration. Still there is an incident report and number that it may serve as evidence should anyone else report Samuel for a similar thing.

I’m sure I wasn’t his first sexual assault and maybe not his last. Maybe he has been sexually exploiting women he managed? It is interesting that the Africa leadership teams have so few women. It was curious that Samuel resigned abruptly shortly after the police investigators visited the Oxfam GB offices. It may have been a coincidence. Did somebody else report him? What could HR have done differently? The fact that there was even a hint of criminal sexual assault in which the preponderance of evidence, thin though it was nevertheless was on my side should have raised enough doubt to make him justify his reasons for summary dismissal.

After my experience with Oxfam GB I really didn’t want to work for any other organization. This is not the first time I have had to make a career move or lose a job because of man woman trouble as we call it euphemistically in Nigeria. I had thought that I would be safe working with an international organization that had rules about such things. I have been sadly disappointed, in the time since my dismissal I have met and spoken to almost a dozen women with similar experiences. Male managers at INGOs are getting away with sexual abuse in the workplace, women are wrongfully losing jobs, some get stuck in court for years and exhaust their savings, others just don’t want to talk about it in public, still others are too busy trying to make ends meet to fight a foreign Goliath.

I’m a lawyer by training. I opened a small law firm instead of getting another job in the international development field. My 1 year experience at Oxfam GB was exhausting both emotionally and physically. I figure that being my own boss will reduce my vulnerability to sexual assault in the workplace. My practice focuses exclusively on women’s right and expanding legal protection from violence through litigation and legal precedent. I’m building a social enterprise to sustain the practice and my reputation as a writer. Kathleen was right; Oxfam GB didn’t break any Nigerian laws. I was the one that sent that legal opinion on Nigerian labor law to Samuel in October 2010.

Still I found the internal procedure for summary termination on Oxfam GB site confusing. My contract says internal procedure will apply in dismissal yet the site refers back to ‘local laws’. Meanwhile, my contract already says Nigerian law applies. Without knowing the in house rules for summary dismissal that clause of the contract is misleading. When I read it while negotiating my employment terms I reasonably thought it meant rules other than Nigerian law applied. I thought I was protected from unfair or wrongful dismissal and sexual victimization a common enough fear in Nigeria under our poorly applied and interpreted laws. Apparently I was wrong.

Why am I writing to you now?

An executive coach and consultant I worked with advised me to write to you personally and let you and Oxfam GB know exactly what is going on with me before proceeding with any further action. He is optimistic that Oxfam GB will do the right thing. I am hopeful that you Barbara will. I feel I was bullied by a big bad corporation, except Oxfam GB is supposed to be a ‘humanitarian’ organization, one of the ‘good guys’. How could they preach global love and charity and leave me out in the cold like this? Are Oxfam’s values just corporate jargon? I still wonder how I can possibly engage in a legal battle with a corporate behemoth like Oxfam GB that has more money and more lawyers than I can ever hope to. I’m intimidated from even trying but feel the injustice keenly.

I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane right now. I have suffered terribly because of the assault and even more during and after the loss of my job. I’ve lost almost everything because of Samuel Musa and Oxfam GBs actions; my job, my health insurance, my father, who was my dependant and couldn’t continue diabetes treatment after I lost my health insurance and now I am about to lose my home. My small law practice is young and growing but even that is under threat.

If Catherine Layton, or Martin Knops or any other Oxfam GB employee had advised me to report to the police as soon as I described a sexual assault there may have been CCTV footage showing us arriving and me leaving his room and maybe corroboration of my ‘allegations’. There may have been witnesses available for trained questioning by the police. Dozens of Oxfam GB people were in the lobby that night when we left. Samuel Musa himself would have been available for the police to interrogate. If Samuel Musa had not been allowed to dismiss me without reason after sexually assaulting me I may still have my father, my house, my cat and my life.

I am writing this to you now because I was grievously injured by your employees and former employee’s actions and summarily and wrongfully dismissed without reason from my position as CD Nigeria programs and I feel that Oxfam GB my employers did not do enough to protect me or prevent the injury and subsequent suffering. It has taken me this long and many hours of consultation with lawyers and counselors to get here. While I’m still suffering the fall out of that injury, emotional, physical and financial, I finally have the mental and legal clarity to seek the rdress I believe that I deserve.

I hope this letter speaks to the humane part of you and not just the corporate goddess. I only seek justice, for myself and for my silent, disempowered or disenchanted African sisters. We are also a humanitarian cause. We’re also humankind. Barbara please show me that we are safe working for foreign agencies, even the BINGO’s and that the same rules that protect our female colleagues in head office will protect us in our work spaces scattered in the dark spots for gender rights on the continent too. Do not unilaterally listen to our kinsmen who fill your senior leadership positions in Africa and tell you African women will lie against them about rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace because that is the excuse our men give for not tightening rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment laws.

I was a good employee; innovative, result oriented, driven, participatory, nurturing and above all ethical. I was one of few in the region that understood the implementation of the SMS. I was planning a fast track career development in the sector. I was systematically rooting out graft and corruption in the Nigerian program. I was also under systematic attack by the forces of graft and corruption. I wasn’t only working for you, I was also working for my country, for your donors and especially those little old English ladies that have a standing order with their bank to deduct GBP20 every month from their pension check and send to Oxfam GB, even if they are no longer your biggest contributors. I don’t deserve this. It feels so terribly wrong to be dismissed so nonchalantly and left so broken and devastated.

I appeal to you Barbara as the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB with whom all decisions finally rest for some sort of justice, relief, closure, damages and permission to move on. I hope you consider my appeal with wisdom and compassion.

I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime I remain;

Yours sincerely,

LesleyAgams

Lesley Gene Agams Esq.

 

 

 

This was her reply

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 10:32 AM

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your letter of 28th April 2012 concerning your period of employment with Oxfam GB.

I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Oxfam and am deeply saddened to hear how you now feel, and that you attribute this to the way that Oxfam handled your complaint. As you are aware, Oxfam is very concerned about gender inequality and committed to putting poor women’s rights at the heart of what we do. With this in mind I can assure you that Oxfam did take your complaint seriously and followed internal procedures carefully to fully investigate the points that you raised. Unfortunately , like the police, we found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate your allegation of events that had taken place, some 3 months earlier. The allegation of sexual assault is an issue which we take very seriously and although we could not find evidence to confirm that the assault did take place, the matter was followed up and appropriate action was taken in line with our procedures. I appreciate that you were disappointed by these findings.

I understand that you did speak to both Catherine Layton (HR Adviser) and Martin Knops (Oxfam’s Counsellor) about events that took place whilst you were in the UK. At the time you did not categorise them as a criminal offence of sexual assault but as an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’ and indeed had asked to speak to them both ‘in confidence’. This confidentiality was maintained by them both as you had requested. Had you allowed Catherine to take this forward on your behalf as one of the options she suggested to you at the time, or indeed expressed it in the more serious language that you are now using, then the situation may have been different. This was the decision that you made at the time and I feel that it is not appropriate of you now to blame them for respecting your request for confidentiality.

With regard to your termination of employment from Oxfam, I am aware that you raised an appeal against this in line with our procedures. The appeal was heard by Kathleen McGarva, the Deputy International Director, and she was satisfied that the termination of your contract complied with the law in Nigeria which is the law that governed your contract of employment and that the termination was not due to sexual victimisation from a senior manager of staff. Kathleen is an experienced senior manager in Oxfam, based in Oxford who had no prior knowledge or involvement of this matter. I am satisfied that she considered your case very carefully in a fair and transparent manner when reaching her conclusion.

I am satisfied that that Oxfam has acted fairly in fully investigating your complaints and allegations and your request for damages is not appropriate.

Thank you for writing to me about bringing this to my attention.  I do wish you the very best for your future.

Best regards

Barbara

Barbara Stocking 

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB  

 

 

Maybe she was right, maybe it was all my fault. Except I’m pretty damn sure I DID describe it as a sexual assault, EXACTLY  as it happened, in very vivid detail too, to both Martin and Catherine.  Whatever could have given them the idea that is was an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’? (How sleazy does that even sound? Ugh!) Now they would have me second guessing myself!

I thought I was really over it. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend that I had finally recovered from it all except the jack hammering of my heart says maybe not.

How do I feel about it now? I still feel angry. And powerless.

“Honour you anger” Martin Knops said to me all those years ago.

 

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Surviving Sexual Assault, Loss of Employment, Disillusionment & BINGO Corporate Crap

August 6, 2013

The past three years have been one hell of a ride. I’ve been to hell and back. I wish I had read this WSJ article three years ago but I just came across it last week. It says it can take up to two years to recover from a divorce or loss of job and I didn’t only lose my job, I was sexually assaulted on the job. If I’d known it would take this long to recover I would have worked through my pain and distress more mindfully, felt less like a freak, worried less about what was wrong with me and not blamed myself so much for what happened.

I’m only just recovering from what happened to me at Oxfam GB. I didn’t take time to tend to the scared me, the frightened me, the traumatized me, because I’ve had a lifetime of experience with abuse and I know you can’t let it take over your life. So I pushed away the pain and disappointment, buried it in daily routines, silenced my anger in constructive action, all the while thinking to myself – I shouldn’t have gone to his hotel room with him, I shouldn’t have sat down to have a drink with him, I shouldn’t have even smiled at him.

When I gave away my dog and asked my best friends sister to take in my cat I tried not to think of the wrong that had been done to me because if I didn’t want to start crying over spilled milk, the milk would still be on the floor and I would never stop crying.  When I packed up all my prized and favorite possessions and put them in storage because I couldn’t pay the rent anymore I tried not to curse the man who made this happen. I was strong, I took responsibility, it’s what I’ve been taught to do since I could make sense of the world; pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

Still I couldn’t help thinking; I should have gone straight to the police, I should have filed a formal complaint immediately, I should have put my wellbeing before my concerns for Oxfam’s reputation, I shouldn’t have called him and demanded an apology because really what else would he do after that except get rid of me. Let me hang over HIS career at Oxfam like an isosceles sword?

When I watched my sons move out of our house all I could think of was that I should have done more to protect my job because my job gave them protection and they depended on me. Sometimes I would hate the man that did this to me with so much passion but what’s that – hate? He’s there with his family in his house, at his job and I’m out in the cold and my world is falling apart around me and I don’t know how to stop it. My hate can’t touch him. It was but small comfort that he resigned abruptly a year later when the police started and investigation and questioned Oxfam.

I could have used the severance pay they gave me to bring a court action against him and Oxfam and everybody else that made me feel so powerless and helpless and out of control but my father died just when I was about to start something. He was a dependent under the health insurance policy they made me take in place of the private one I had before so when I lost the job I lost my health insurance. He died of complications from diabetes because I couldn’t afford his drugs any longer and what was left of my severance went towards that expensive burial for him. The village people would have it no other way.

Besides, every lawyer I spoke to claimed jurisdiction was a problem. At the time of the incident you worked in Abuja, he worked in Dakar, the assault happened in Oxford, England.  I didn’t qualify to go before the employment tribunal in the UK, the Nigerian Labor law offered little remedy and whether I filed legal action in Nigeria, Senegal or UK it would be expensive, serving everyone involved would be a logistics nightmare and a financial investment I just couldn’t afford.

I still remember a conversation I had with a Nigerian lady who had taken a German BINGO to court for sexual discrimination and unlawful termination of contract in Nigeria. She had been in court for 5 years. When she came to me she was struggling to take care of her children and could no longer afford the legal fees. She came looking for legal assistance. Little did I know at the time that I would find myself in a similar quandary a few months down the line.

For a very long time I was angry at Oxfam and all the people I worked with there that couldn’t end the conversation fast enough the minute I mentioned the sexual assault. I wonder why they were so ready to listen to him when he said I deserved summary dismissal for a minor oversight that I wasn’t even aware of but wouldn’t give me the time of day when I told them my more serious allegations even when I had your witnesses, the in house shrink and the HR lady I reported to after the incident who corroborated my story.

The shrink didn’t offer me any post traumatic counselling, He just said ‘honor your anger’ but I wasn’t feeling angry then. I was hurt, confused, scared and ashamed but not angry, not yet. The anger would come later and most of it was self-directed at first.  I was also afraid of losing my job, now I find it ironic how my greatest fear came true and became my reality. I found my anger when I realized that I had lost my job because I wouldn’t let this man have sex with me and insisted he apologize for even trying. I found my anger when I realized that Oxfam was more concerned with covering up the matter than protecting me despite the evidence.

Oxfam has stone walled me for the past three years, all my attempts to get them to reconsider the evidence have been rejected. Even the shrink I first reported to has ignored my calls for help, the robotic lawyers can’t get creative and see beyond the jurisdiction issues and the statute of limitations on sexual assaults in England expires today. I have done my best – I’ve spoken to lawyers at home and abroad. I’ve swallowed my pride and my embarrassment, told complete strangers about the most intimate assault a woman can experience again and again, I have sought support from ngo’s and from individuals. Some turn away in embarrassment, some wish me good luck. some said they would help me if they could but…

Meanwhile I continue to hear horrific stories of sexual abuse, harassment and rape from other local hire women in international development.  I considered a broader campaign to bring the matter into the open but no one wants to talk about it publicly. They have husbands and boyfriends and children and careers and lives and they just want to move on as best they can. Why can’t I just let it go it and move on like they seem to have done? Why does the injustice of it gnaw at the pit of my stomach till I want to puke and shake my fist at Man, God and the Universe?

Its taken me a long time to talk about what happened to me, at first I thought it was okay and expected people to react with outrage and support but when I noticed the embarrassment on people’s faces when I mentioned why or how I was fired I stopped talking about it. I’m grateful to all the people who have in one way or the other sympathized with me or spoken out in the past few months because the silence was killing me.  It reinforced my shame and my isolation and my loneliness. I felt like I was shouting wolf, like I was the only one this ever happened to and therefore surely it was my fault or I was imagining things. Or I was just crazy.

I must thank Chika Oduah for her powerful and informative write up.  She says my post about my assault gave her the courage to speak about her experience; her post has given me the courage to feel and share my feelings. I notice is how arid my words were when I wrote them as if the events happened to someone else, as if it were just a matter of fact. It’s how I deal with scary emotions and experiences, I either trivialize them or I sanitize them. Being a lawyer helps – cut to the objective facts please.

I don’t miss the job, I hated working for Oxfam from the get go, they do more good for their egos and their pockets than they do for the poor third world people they claim to help with all those tax free dollars and pounds they collect from the unsuspecting masses in the west. I don’t even miss the colleagues I worked with, not one of them reached out to support or even sympathize when I told them what happened, they shut me off like a poisoned water spout, acted like they were afraid I would taint them and put their own jobs at risk and I don’t blame them or even hold it against them.

What I miss, no, what I missed was more personal; my  sense of self-worth, my confidence, my health, my love of life, my faith in people, my integrity.  But it’s not what they take away, it’s what they leave behind like one TV ad in England says; the anxiety, the mistrust, the self-doubts, the anger, the pessimism, the disillusionment; it’s been a long time coming but I can finally honestly say – they never took anything away from me.  I’m still who I was before this happened, who I always been – I’m a feisty survivor.

Its three years later and I have survived; without a job, without a home, without my children around me, without my dog, without my cat and without the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings. I have survived! Nietzsche was right – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No one can take that from me.  Writing has been my solace these past three years and I have rediscovered my talent and my passion for it; words have power, my words have power and I will continue to speak out against sexual harassment in the work place, Oxfam and the man that did this to me, not out of anger or self-pity or even regret but from a place of power, from a place of certainty that injustice is wrong, from a place where I can say with pride – I survived!

 

 

The White Savior Industrial Complex & Sexual Harassment of African Female Aid Workers. Pls Take Our Poll

July 14, 2013

The following was originally posted on this blog in March 2012 about an incident that happened in 2010. Since then there has been no further developments in my case against Oxfam GB who have maintained that they acted appropriately and that no assault occurred.  I have  neither the time nor the money to pursue legal action even while I still struggle with the physical, emotional  and professional fall out of the assault that I experienced. Meanwhile, I continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers in African country offices of major international aid agencies including Oxfam. I have heard enough such stories to warrant a fuller investigation of the phenomena. Are international organizations  ignoring sexual harassment  and assault of local hires?  Are male managers in African INGO offices getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated or go unpunished in head office?  If you have been or if you know anyone who has been a victim of such harassment please write confidentially to me at lesley.agams@gmail.com. Comments are welcome.

October 2009.  I’m the new country director for Oxfam GB in Nigeria.

August 2010. I’ve been with Oxfam GB 10 months. I finally go to Oxford for Orientation. Its my first time in the UK.  Almost 60 CD’s from all over the world are in Oxford. There is a 3 day CD convention after the week of orientation.

I’m in the hotel lounge with the other CD’s from English West Africa talking shop. Our line manager joins us. He just arrived. We’re talking shop, programs and development. He refers to a document he wants me to see several times. It’s in his room he says. ‘I’ll pick it up on my way up to my room.’

It occurs to me going to his room may be a bad idea for all those reasons your momma ever told you. I dismiss the thought. We’re professionals. He’s my boss. He has never shown any inappropriate interest in me. Or vice versa. If I were a man I would go without hesitation. I go.

In his room he brings out the document, it’s a concept map. I don’t sit down; we discuss it briefly. I don’t want to stay long. A woman’s ability is always in doubt.  I don’t want my work to be devalued by rumors I may have been closer to the boss than appropriate. If I were a man I would stay. I go.

I walk towards the door. Turn to say good night. He grabs me. Pushes his tongue in my mouth. Pulls me back into the room, pushes me onto the bed. Grabs and fiddles with my belt buckle with one hand. My heart is pounding. My head is reeling. I clasp my teeth shut. Try to push him away. ‘No, no, no!’ Not strong enough but the space I create between us gives room for his hands to unbuckle my belt.

So I pull him closer. Relax. Play dead for a minute. For a split second it occurs to me that giving in would be easier. Let him have his way. Keep my job. Keep good working relationships. He’s lying on top of me. His smell fills my nostrils. This is not what I want. I rally all my strength and push him off.

‘How are we supposed to work together after this? I met your wife! What have you done? Why?” I rush out of the room. Downstairs. Sit in the cold outside. Smoke a cigarette. Try to compose myself. My thoughts race frantically. Not again. Not now. I thought I had outgrown this. I worry about my job. Not myself. Not yet.

I’m a Nigerian. Lived and worked in Nigeria all my adult life. It’s hard enough to report and prove a rape. An attempted rape? I don’t even think about it. My job is at risk. How do I protect my job? If I report how will I work with the West Africa team? Almost 90% of senior staff are male. I’m the only female CD in the English speaking countries. Only one female CD in the French speaking countries. Only 2 women on the regional management team.

Eventually I calm down and go to sleep. I see him at breakfast the next day. I shudder, I gag, I can’t eat. I note my reaction with some surprise and curiosity. I avoid him for the rest of the day. For the rest of the trip. I hear Oxfam GB has a head shrink for staff. I go see the shrink the next day. He calls in HR. I tell her my story.

‘Do you want to file a formal complaint?’ she asks.

‘I’m worried it will affect my working relationships in West Africa.’

‘Have you spoken to him? Told him how you feel?’

Huh? Lady I can barely look at him without a violent reaction.

‘Did you tell him ‘no’?

Huh? Didn’t I say that already?

‘Does he know his action was not welcome?’

Huh? Are you suggesting I led him on?

‘We handled a complaint recently. Two employees that had an affair that went bad.’

Huh? Are you suggesting this is an affair gone bad?

Is this a preview of a formal hearing?

‘Look. I don’t know what I want to do right now but I want you to know in case he tries to victimize me.’

’You should talk to him. Tell him how you feel.’

But I can’t. Not yet.

In September I finally call him and follow up with an email. He takes my call but ignores my email. I go to regional office in October, try to act normal. I’m still communicating with HR in Oxford, still looking for a way past this. Still worried, still confused, still devastated. I still have flash backs.

On the 23rd  of November he arrives Abuja from Dakar after closing hours, hands me a letter terminating my contract. I have two days to clear out of the office. Transitions plans already in place. Reason given? An online ad to fill the positions of the troublesome program staff. One was sacked the other resigned rather than answer a query. But the ads weren’t authorized by me and I withdrew them.

I lose my appeal. Oxfam GB says he acted within Nigerian law. Says there is no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault. What of my report to the shrink? To the HR? What of my email to the accused? He admits I came to his room but denies the events, says I hit on him, that he ‘sent me away’. That my email ‘baffled him.’ They believe him not me. What corroboration is there for his version?

I hear stories from other women that worked in international development. Similar stories. From West Africa. From East Africa. From South Africa. Randy expatriate boss. Getting away with things he wouldn’t even try in his home country. The local women always lose their jobs.  One is still in court 5 years later, her savings exhausted.

I eventually I do make a report to the Thames Valley Police. They believe me, record a crime, investigate, even though too much time has passed and they don’t find enough evidence for a trial. Still it will be evidence if he’s ever reported again. They consider extraditing him for questioning.  He resigns abruptly.  I feel a bit better but how to fix the bigger problem?How do I fight a cash rich behemoth like Oxfam GB in court? I’m still working on that problem.

The White Savior Industrial Complex & Sexual Harassment of African Female Aid Workers

May 31, 2013

The following was originally posted on this blog in March 2012 about an incident that happened in 2010. Since then there has been no further developments in my case against Oxfam GB who have maintained that they acted appropriately and that no assault occurred.  I have  neither the time nor the money to pursue legal action even while I still struggle with the physical, emotional  and professional fall out of the assault that I experienced. Meanwhile, I continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers in African country offices of major international aid agencies including Oxfam. I have heard enough such stories to warrant a fuller investigation of the phenomena. Are international organizations  ignoring sexual harassment  and assault of local hires?  Are male managers in African INGO offices getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated or go unpunished in head office?  If you have been or if you know anyone who has been a victim of such harassment please write confidentially to me at lesley.agams@gmail.com. Comments are welcome.

 

October 2009.  I’m the new country director for Oxfam GB in Nigeria.

August 2010. I’ve been with Oxfam GB 10 months. I finally go to Oxford for Orientation. Its my first time in the UK.  Almost 60 CD’s from all over the world are in Oxford. There is a 3 day CD convention after the week of orientation.

I’m in the hotel lounge with the other CD’s from English West Africa talking shop. Our line manager joins us. He just arrived. We’re talking shop, programs and development. He refers to a document he wants me to see several times. It’s in his room he says. ‘I’ll pick it up on my way up to my room.’

It occurs to me going to his room may be a bad idea for all those reasons your momma ever told you. I dismiss the thought. We’re professionals. He’s my boss. He has never shown any inappropriate interest in me. Or vice versa. If I were a man I would go without hesitation. I go.

In his room he brings out the document, it’s a concept map. I don’t sit down; we discuss it briefly. I don’t want to stay long. A woman’s ability is always in doubt.  I don’t want my work to be devalued by rumors I may have been closer to the boss than appropriate. If I were a man I would stay. I go.

I walk towards the door. Turn to say good night. He grabs me. Pushes his tongue in my mouth. Pulls me back into the room, pushes me onto the bed. Grabs and fiddles with my belt buckle with one hand. My heart is pounding. My head is reeling. I clasp my teeth shut. Try to push him away. ‘No, no, no!’ Not strong enough but the space I create between us gives room for his hands to unbuckle my belt.

So I pull him closer. Relax. Play dead for a minute. For a split second it occurs to me that giving in would be easier. Let him have his way. Keep my job. Keep good working relationships. He’s lying on top of me. His smell fills my nostrils. This is not what I want. I rally all my strength and push him off.

‘How are we supposed to work together after this? I met your wife! What have you done? Why?” I rush out of the room. Downstairs. Sit in the cold outside. Smoke a cigarette. Try to compose myself. My thoughts race frantically. Not again. Not now. I thought I had outgrown this. I worry about my job. Not myself. Not yet.

I’m a Nigerian. Lived and worked in Nigeria all my adult life. It’s hard enough to report and prove a rape. An attempted rape? I don’t even think about it. My job is at risk. How do I protect my job? If I report how will I work with the West Africa team? Almost 90% of senior staff are male. I’m the only female CD in the English speaking countries. Only one female CD in the French speaking countries. Only 2 women on the regional management team.

Eventually I calm down and go to sleep. I see him at breakfast the next day. I shudder, I gag, I can’t eat. I note my reaction with some surprise and curiosity. I avoid him for the rest of the day. For the rest of the trip. I hear Oxfam GB has a head shrink for staff. I go see the shrink the next day. He calls in HR. I tell her my story.

‘Do you want to file a formal complaint?’ she asks.

‘I’m worried it will affect my working relationships in West Africa.’

‘Have you spoken to him? Told him how you feel?’

Huh? Lady I can barely look at him without a violent reaction.

‘Did you tell him ‘no’?

Huh? Didn’t I say that already?

‘Does he know his action was not welcome?’

Huh? Are you suggesting I led him on?

‘We handled a complaint recently. Two employees that had an affair that went bad.’

Huh? Are you suggesting this is an affair gone bad?

Is this a preview of a formal hearing?

‘Look. I don’t know what I want to do right now but I want you to know in case he tries to victimize me.’

’You should talk to him. Tell him how you feel.’

But I can’t. Not yet.

In September I finally call him and follow up with an email. He takes my call but ignores my email. I go to regional office in October, try to act normal. I’m still communicating with HR in Oxford, still looking for a way past this. Still worried, still confused, still devastated. I still have flash backs.

On the 23rd  of November he arrives Abuja from Dakar after closing hours, hands me a letter terminating my contract. I have two days to clear out of the office. Transitions plans already in place. Reason given? An online ad to fill the positions of the troublesome program staff. One was sacked the other resigned rather than answer a query. But the ads weren’t authorized by me and I withdrew them.

I lose my appeal. Oxfam GB says he acted within Nigerian law. Says there is no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault. What of my report to the shrink? To the HR? What of my email to the accused? He admits I came to his room but denies the events, says I hit on him, that he ‘sent me away’. That my email ‘baffled him.’ They believe him not me. What corroboration is there for his version?

I hear stories from other women that worked in international development. Similar stories. From West Africa. From East Africa. From South Africa. Randy expatriate boss. Getting away with things he wouldn’t even try in his home country. The local women always lose their jobs.  One is still in court 5 years later, her savings exhausted.

I eventually I do make a report to the Thames Valley Police. They believe me, record a crime, investigate, don’t find enough evidence for a trial. They consider extraditing him for questioning. He resigns abruptly.  I feel a bit better but how to fix the bigger problem? What are my chances fighting a cash rich behemoth like Oxfam GB in court?