January 25, 2018; ProPublica
For those in need of clarification on what some elements of an “enabling environment” are when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, here are a few: Make those who report feel like they put their careers at risk by reporting, and when you do decide the guy is too dangerous for you to keep, give the guy a hero’s send-off, complete with excellent references.
A recent ProPublica report reveals that after the American Red Cross forced Gerald Anderson to resign in 2013 after a sexual harassment investigation found against him, it not only loudly celebrated his long service at the Red Cross, despite the women still being on staff, but it also passed along “very positive references” to Save the Children, which then hired him. The fact that both organizations in question deal with people at their most vulnerable in what can be chaotic situations was apparently not taken into account.
The Red Cross confirms that it performed a “complete and thorough review of all allegations reported,” finding “Mr. Anderson’s actions were in direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles.”
“We informed Mr. Anderson that he needed to leave the Red Cross,” the Red Cross statement says, “and he resigned.” As Anderson took leave of the organization, a laudatory email was released by David Meltzer, an executive who has since been promoted to general counsel, where he oversees the charity’s handling of all misconduct cases.
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The statement concedes that the “laudatory language used in association with Mr. Anderson’s departure was inappropriate and regrettable, given the circumstances” and “that a verbal reference given to Save the Children may also have contained similar language. As a result, we are taking appropriate disciplinary action.”
The Red Cross also apologized to Save the Children. “In the future, we are committed to greater due diligence with regard to these types of communications,” the charity wrote in the statement. But the fact is that the situation only came to light when Eliza Paul, one of the women who alleges that Anderson raped her, came forward and told her story to ProPublica.
ProPublica was the entity that let Save the Children know that it had a problem. Yet the Red Cross had sufficient temerity to declare the charity “has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and has policies in place to enforce that, as evidenced by the corrective actions we took resulting in the resignation of Jerry Anderson more than 5 years ago.” Anderson had risen through the ranks at the Red Cross over 15 years to lead the relief efforts for Haiti and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Save the Children says there have been no allegations of misconduct against Anderson while he was working there; in fact, he has been promoted to associate vice president of humanitarian response.
This story adds to those emerging in any number of fields as women are naming the abuse in their environments. Last week, we reported on USAG and the USOC, as well as on a community leader in Maine who was tainting a network’s working environment with his behavior. How many such situations are still out there in the civil sector just waiting to announce themselves?—Ruth McCambridge