Letter to the Editor, The Guardian, 4 March 2018

04/03/2018 Comments Off on Letter to the Editor, The Guardian, 4 March 2018

The article “Sex workers in Haiti speak out on aid agency scandal” (1 March 2018, p.41) is very poor journalism in that it mixes together issues that don’t belong together. Firstly, while it points out that poverty and loss of family in Haiti left many women with no option but to sell sex for a living, this is not a new problem for poor women in Haiti, and it certainly did not start with the 2010 earthquake, let alone with the arrival of aid workers. Secondly, aid workers have been working in Haiti for decades.

 Thirdly, the article appears to make the assumption that aid workers, who may spend years in a country, have no right to have sex – with anyone – while they are there. Indeed, the first half of the article is only about the fact that some aid workers are having sex with sex workers and paying above the national rate for it. This is not at all what this scandal is about.

Only after four columns of text does the article finally mention what the headline says it is about – that some “foreign workers” have been seen to ask for sex in exchange for supplies, and that a 2015 UN report found that “members of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti traded sex for aid with more than 225 women between 2008 and 2014”. Is this new news from this journalist? No.

After that, the article does not present any new evidence of this abuse of power. Instead, it reports that selling sex is illegal in Haiti and describes some personal experiences of sex workers that are unremarkable and irrelevant to the scandal. There is not one word more on whether staff of aid agencies in Haiti are abusing their power by trading supplies for sex, nor if so, how many, when or where. Yet the future of Oxfam and other aid agencies hangs in the balance. In the absence of actual evidence, the headline is false and misleading, and the article should never have been published.

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