Dame Barbara Stocking has been president of Murray Edwards since 2013 Louis Ashworth

Dame Barbara Stocking, Murray Edwards President, has been criticised by MPs for providing a “tenuous defence” of her failure as Oxfam CEO to disclose the sexual nature of abuse by humanitarian workers during the 2011 Haiti earthquake.

Stocking’s decisions were revealed in a Times investigation earlier this year, placing her at the centre of a national controversy over sexual misconduct in the charity work sector.

The Times revealed that Stocking offered the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, “a phased and dignified exit” because sacking him would have “potentially serious implications” for the charity’s work and reputation” after he was found to have hosted prostitutes in a villa after the earthquake.

Two other men in management resigned and four were dismissed for the use of prostitutes at the apartment block where Oxfam housed them.

Murray Edwards’ student union released a statement at the time condemning her actions, causing Stocking to apologise to members of the college, though college authorities had chosen to defend her when the story initially broke.

In full Murray Edwards student union's statement

Murray Edwards JCR, on behalf of members of the undergraduate body, wish to express our disappointment with Dame Barbara Stocking's response to the recent allegations regarding her role in the cover up of sexual exploitation in Haiti while CEO of Oxfam. Her conduct has seriously called into question the viability of protecting students’ welfare, particularly that of BME students, while Dame Barbara continues to act as college President.

In an open meeting with students held on 13th February to discuss allegations against her, Dame Barbara spoke about sexual exploitation in a dismissive manner, presenting it as an inevitability in a ‘disaster zone’ and comparing it to crimes such as fraud. Students have also been dismayed by Dame Barbara’s demeanour during appearances on national television, with her smirking and smiling while discussing serious allegations signalling a complete lack of regard for the victims of sexual exploitation. We know there are survivors and victims of sexual assault in college. Such a cavalier attitude to sexual assault is an affront to the experiences of these students. Students have raised serious concerns about the possibility of maintaining a relationship of trust between staff and students while staff with responsibility for student welfare continue to stand by Dame Barbara as President. Some students have told us they have no confidence in College’s commitment to advocating for them if they themselves were to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against senior staff.

It is crucial to recognise how BME students in particular have been alienated by Dame Barbara’s conduct. In the open meeting mentioned above, Dame Barbara used racially charged language, constructing Haiti as an uncivilised nation, stating that ‘these things happen’ in places ‘where there is no rule of law’, moving the burden of responsibility for sexual exploitation away from its white western perpetrators. The President of Haiti himself has contested this racialised narrative, stating that Dame Barbara’s suggestion that crimes were not reported because nothing would be done about them 'is really an insult to my country because you are working in a place and country which is not a forest’. For the first half of the twentieth century, the diagnosis of white colonialists with ‘tropical neurasthenia’ served as a powerful explanatory tool, putting the failures of the supposedly civilising project of Empire down to the local climate and population. Echoes of this colonial narrative are evident in the language Dame Barbara has used to address the behaviour of Oxfam employees in Haiti.

That the President of our college has conducted herself in such a manner has been an extremely alienating experience for BME students in college. Numerous BME students have contacted the JCR to express the distress and concern that Dame Barbara’s conduct has caused them. It is important to remember that Murray Edwards is not just an educational institution, but students’ home in Cambridge for the duration of our degrees. Unfortunately, Dame Barbara’s conduct has had a serious impact on students’ ability to feel at home in college, where we must brush up against her in corridors and dining spaces every day. We believe Dame Barbara's lack of regard for black women’s lives in Haiti is impossible to disentangle from her conduct in college and the welfare of BME students. This incident has highlighted an ongoing problem of racist microaggressions experienced by students in encounters with Dame Barbara over several years. Such microaggressions form part of the wider experience of BME students in Cambridge, who face institutional racism on a daily basis. College’s inaction in dealing with this issue is a prime example of how Cambridge institutions work to facilitate what Dr Priyamvada Gopal has recently referred to as the 'genteel liberal racism that is the very lifeblood of Cambridge social intercourse’.

For college to rebuild trust with students, there must be recognition of our grievances. A serious conversation about how race affects the experience of students in college must take place, led by BME students. College must reaffirm its dedication to taking sexual assault seriously and its commitment to survivors and victims over abusers who occupy positions of power. The JCR is asking for a formal apology from the college for being too hasty to express their support for Dame Barbara, for failing to consult the opinion of members of the college first, and for implying in statements to the press that the student body is universally supportive. After all, it is we, the students, who are Murray Edwards College, not the President. Finally, we call for a dialogue about whether these processes of rebuilding trust can take place while Dame Barbara Stocking remains our President. The situation as it stands now is unconscionable. We know that many BME students and survivors and victims of sexual abuse are finding it impossible to feel safe in college. Murray Edwards must seriously address what can and should be done to redress the harm that has been caused.

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In full Stocking's response to the statement from Murray Edwards' students

I am very sorry if students at Murray Edwards feel that I was at all dismissive about sexual exploitation in Haiti and that the language I used in that meeting caused upset to any student. I certainly do not believe Haiti to be uncivilised. I was trying to discuss honestly some of the challenges faced by international organisations seeking to respond to terrible human suffering caused by a major natural disaster. I was so shocked when the sexual exploitation in Haiti was reported to me that I immediately assembled an investigation team and, when the allegations were found to be true, all seven men involved lost their jobs. I have always taken these issues extremely seriously.

Throughout my career I have championed the rights of women and black and ethnic minorities. I have fought hard to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of women of all races and backgrounds across the world and I am committed to bringing those concerned to justice. Here in Cambridge I have supported students who have suffered sexual harassment and rape. I would be horrified to think that any student at the College feels that I might not listen to her complaint of harassment; I assure them that this is not the case.

I will continue to engage with students to listen to their concerns and assure them that their safety and welfare are of paramount concern to me.

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Following The Times’ revelations, the House of Commons ordered an inquiry by the parliamentary Charity Commission and International Development Committee to examine sexual abuse by humanitarian workers during the 2011 Haiti earthquake, as well as looking into the wider aid sector’s dealings with sexual misconduct. Stocking took a period of unpaid leave from her role as President of Murray Edwards in April to give evidence for it.

The report showed Stocking defended her actions at the time in a statement to the inquiry committee.

“In my view Oxfam were transparent about what happened”

She defended Oxfam’s decision not to disclose to the Department of International Development that sexual abuse had occurred, where Oxfam said only that breaches in the Oxfam code of conduct were “serious in nature” but were “not concerning fraud”, on the grounds that this was necessary to avoid exposing the charity to accusations of defamation.

Stocking also justified the decision not to share specific information with donors on similar grounds, claiming that names of individuals or reasons for their dismissals being leaked would “run the risk of exposing Oxfam to criticism or legal challenge”.

In the report, MPs called her defence “tenuous”. They wrote: “It is unclear why Oxfam could not have shared information about the allegations with DFID without disclosing the names of the staff involved.

“We also note that the legal advice on which this decision was based was advice about what Oxfam was able to say in public, not what Oxfam should or should not disclose to donors.”

MPs added, however, that the issue extends beyond Oxfam’s mistakes, and that the sector needs to move together to become more transparent about sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Our priority at the time was not to further jeopardise the important work we were doing in Haiti”

Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, the international development secretary at the time, claimed that Oxfam’s actions had “abided by the letter but not the spirit” of their obligations. The report suggested that, although Oxfam reported in full and in a timely manner to the Charity Commission, that Oxfam should have shared more detailed information with the Department of International Development.

Stocking also disputed one aspect of The Times’ findings: that children may have been among those who were exploited by Oxfam’s aid workers in Haiti.

The Times reported in February: “A confidential report by the charity said that there had been ‘a culture of impunity’ among some staff in Haiti and concluded that children may have been among those sexually exploited by aid workers. The 2011 report stated: ‘It cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were under-aged.’”

During the inquiry, Stocking said that a detailed investigation had found: “several statements were made by individuals which confirmed that the women involved were not minors and some of the information received about the possible use of minors was found to be without foundation.”

She said: “It could be argued that we should have engaged with the women more thoroughly to find out whether there were minors”, but added: “I think all of us concerned felt, at the time, that we had enough information and evidence to ensure that the staff involved were removed from Oxfam and from Haiti.

“Our priority at the time was not to further jeopardise the important work we were doing in Haiti.”

Stocking added in her statement to the inquiry: “In my view Oxfam were transparent about what happened.”


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She told Varsity: “The fact that this matter could be reported... and dealt with, from allegation to dismissals, in a matter of weeks shows that in this case our system was working.”

The current chair of Oxfam trustees, Caroline Thompson, however, conceded in a statement following the parliamentary inquiry’s findings that “we should have reported more clearly at the time.”

Stocking also told Varsity she welcomed the report’s recommendations for the implementation a global register and greater allocation of funds to safeguarding against abuse, which she said would “strengthen the hand of those seeking to stamp out abuse” in the sector.

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