Tag Archives: danger

Have you enabled a Larry Nassar?

Dr. Larry Nassar sexually molested more than 160 young girls. He didn’t drive around in a van and kidnap girls he didn’t know on their way to or from school. He didn’t jump out from behind a tree and grab a girl and run. He wasn’t a stranger to the girls he harmed, nor to their families. Coaches brought girls to Larry Nassar. Parents drove their girls to appointments with him. University officials and Olympic team officials created and supported the environment where Nassar was allowed to do this.

Does that scare you? Good. It should.

Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to come forward with public accusations against Dr. Nassar, was the last to speak at his sentencing hearing. Her comments are worth noting: “Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser. One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault.”

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog called Why don’t they tell? Would they at your org?. It is about how, over the years, more than one person observed Jerry Sandusky, head of the nonprofit organization The Second Mile and former Penn State defensive coordinator, molesting boys, or heard someone say that they had witnessed such. Yet none of those people called the police and none of the people in authority that they told about what had been seen called police. The blog was about how we create environments where, not because of policies but because of culture, we discourage people from asking tough questions or reporting something that has the potential to be profoundly disruptive to everything an organization, a program, or a campaign is trying to do. It’s how, in so many cultures, we are discouraged from even asking questions. The #meetoo movement has confirmed so much of what I said in this blog back in 2011.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersIn that blog, I challenged nonprofits, non-governmental agencies, universities, government departments and other mission-based programs – and particularly aid agencies with staff members in the field! – to take a hard look at not just their policies, but their culture. and I asked: Are you never hearing about inappropriate behavior by employees or volunteers at your organization not because nothing is happening, but because people don’t feel comfortable saying anything?

Per this latest case of harm to children, here’s some additional, more practical advice for parents and anyone working with kids in any capacity (coach, church group leader, etc.):

Any adult demanding or frequently asking for one-on-one, unsupervised time with a young person is something to look closely at and ask questions about, no matter that adult’s degree, job, religion or familial relationship. Whether it’s a doctor, a priest, a rabbi, an Iman, a teacher, a coach, a choir teacher, an uncle, an aunt, whatever: think about that one-on-one time, why it’s necessary, if it’s really necessary, if it’s appropriate, and how it makes you or your young person feel. Never let fears of how your questions might be perceived or that you might make someone uncomfortable keep you from asking questions. It’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate to say, before your kid goes on a school trip or sporting event, “Will any of these kids ever be alone, one-on-one, with an adult and, if so, what would the circumstances be?” As a parent, remember that you have EVERY right to say to any person in charge, to any adult in a program, even to a doctor, that you would prefer that one-on-one time not happen. This isn’t about parenting or managing from a place of fear and suspicion; it’s about parenting or managing from a place of “I’m watching and I care.”

One-on-one time between an adult and a child or teen is usually a wonderful, positive thing, something to be encouraged and cultivated in many circumstances. It would be a sadder world without one-on-one time between adults and children. But one-on-one time between an adult and a teen or child shouldn’t happen just because of someone’s title, and shouldn’t happen without questions. Ask questions. Decide your comfort level. Listen to kids – and watch them, because often, their behavior will tell you very quickly that there is a problem.

Also see:

Fearing your own colleagues in the field

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have posted on my blog a link to this article about a woman journalist’s harrowing first night on an assignment abroad, because I would have been worried about endangering my career as an aid worker. The subject of this article that makes senior management incredibly uncomfortable: when safety for your employees isn’t about strangers or terrorists or angry mobs but, rather, from colleagues. MUCH easier to hire people who won’t talk about it than to hire someone who might bring up the issue.

But I’m posting the link. It’s too important not too. I don’t know the woman who wrote this. I know nothing about what happened here other than what she has written. But I have heard this SAME story from so many female aid workers – and gay male aid workers trying to hide their sexual orientation from colleagues – with just the titles of the people involved changed. And I will note that the one time I was being made uncomfortable by a co-worker – in Afghanistan, and he was not an Afghan – I was told by a UN HR representative, “One of the things you need to be able to do when you go into the field is to expect this, and if you can’t handle it, maybe working in the field isn’t for you.” I am still haunted by those words, which mean: we accept this as a norm, we will do nothing to change our organizational culture among male professionals, it’s their nature, it’s just how it is, the onus for your safety is entirely on you if you want a career in this field.” It was surreal, after the conversation, to then write a report on our agency’s work to improve the status of women in Afghanistan.

And I will also note that I’ve been here in Ukraine just a week and it’s been lovely, my co-workers are wonderfully respectful and I feel incredibly safe and secure and comfortable respected amongst them. So much so that I have just shared a link on my blog I never would have even five years ago. And that SHOULD be the norm.

aid worker arrested in Haiti

An American aid worker is being held in Haiti, accused of kidnapping a 15-month-old boy. Paul Waggoner is the co-founder of Materials Management Relief Corps, a humanitarian organization that seeks to provide logistical support to medical workers in Haiti.

According to news reports, Waggoner was working at the Haitian Community Hospital in Petionville in February when a Haitian man sought treatment for his 15-month-old son. The child died. Dr. Kenneth Adams, a volunteer physician on staff at the Haitian Community Hospital, said he was present when the child’s father returned to see his son and “witnessed as the father looked at the baby for several minutes, waiting for the baby to breathe.” He said the man took pictures with the deceased baby before he left. Jeff Quinlan, who was working as director of security at the hospital when the child arrived said he told the father that the boy had died and instructed him to return within 24 hours to take the body. But he said the father instead returned more than 24 hours later with a “witch doctor” claiming the child was still alive. Hosptial workers said the body was cremated because the father had not claimed the remains within 24 hours.

Waggoner had nothing to do with the child’s care, according to hospital staff. One colleague said this may be an effort to extort money from Materials Management Relief Corps or Waggoner’s family. The conditions in Haiti’s National Penitentiary, where Waggoner is being held, are horrific: as many as 70 inmates are crowded into 20-by-20 foot cells without plumbing, in lockdown conditions. Diseases, like tuberculosis and AIDS, are rife in the prison. Haiti is also currently battling a cholera epidemic.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe Mr. Waggoner is innocent, and, therefore, this case illustrates one of the risks faced by aid workers that doesn’t get talked about much: getting entangled in local justice systems. It’s why I do not encourage people to volunteer on their own, sans any host organization: Mr. Waggoner at least has the support of Materials Management Relief Corps. But an independent volunteer who waltzes into a local NGO and just starts helping – if he or she is falsely accused of stealing, of hurting a child, or worse, there is NO organization that will be helping you!

Indeed, there are some aid workers that do bad things:

All horrific cases, and all of these cases put all aid workers under a cloud of suspicion in many countries, making their work extremely difficult. But the reality is that most aid workers not only do not engage in such horrific behavior, aid workers are also frequently the target of sexual abuse, kidnapping and assault themselves: type aid worker sexually assaulted into Google.com and you will end up with a long, horrific list of incidents against aid workers including stories that talk about:

And on and on. I’m a frequent international traveler and sometime aid worker myself, and don’t want to be alarmist. I do believe you can do good while traveling abroad. But take security cautions seriously, and remember that the more solo you are, the harder it will be to get any support if you face a local justice system.

You can contact US government officials to urge them to do more to secure Waggoner’s freedom. Blog about this case yourself to raise the profile of this case on search engines and, potentially, in the media.

Also see Vetting Organizations in Other Countries.

UPDATE: He’s just out of prison, but still in Haiti.

July 17, 2017 updateCharities and voluntourism fuelling ‘orphanage crisis’ in Haiti, says NGO. At least 30,000 children live in privately-run orphanages in Haiti, but an estimated 80% of the children living in these facilities are not actually orphaned: they have one or more living parent, and almost all have other relatives, according to the Haitian government.