Mercy Corps Mishandled Past Sex Abuse Allegations, Board Member Resigns

Mercy Corps

Global non-governmental humanitarian aid organization, Mercy Corps, finds itself at the front of recent headlines as they confirm that long-time board member Robert Newell has resigned amid an investigation into past sexual abuse allegations. It was brought to the attention of several journalists that Mercy Corps had mishandled sensitive information surrounding sexual abuse allegations against co-founder Ellsworth Culver approximately 25 years ago. In this mist of an investigation into Mercy Corps, Newell resigned.

Evidence points to the fact that Mercy Corps was aware of the accusations back in the early 1990s. What seemly was swept under the rug by Mercy Corps was that these allegations of abuse were by Culver’s own daughter. Mercy Corps continued to allow Culver to maintain a top position within the organization for over a decade.

Board member Robert Newell was part of the initial review into Culver. Newell had served on the board since it was founded in 1981.

On more than one account over the years, the humanitarian-aid organization attempted to silence Culver’s daughter, Tania Culver Humphrey. The first attempt was 25 years ago when she first notified Mercy Corps of the sexual abuse by her father. The second was just this last year when Humphrey’s asked Mercy Corp to take a second look at how they initially handled her complaint about her father. The initial review into Culver was done by Newell, as well as Dan O’Neill (co-founder), and Raymond Vath (former board chairman).

Newell recently came out and said that 25 years ago when Culver’s daughter first brought her allegations to the organization, Mercy Corps took them “very seriously”. He considered the investigation back then challenging because the state’s child welfare authorities did not get involved and it was unclear as to why. He went on to make a statement about Humphrey saying that “nothing changes the fact that no one should endure what she has described, especially not as a child at the hands of her father. It is as troubling to me now as it was back then”.

Ellsworth Culver continued to serve as the face of Mercy Corps until the time of his death in 2005, even after the accusations 25 years ago. Just this last week, Mercy Corps scrubbed their website from any photos or tributes to Culver.

Humphrey, who is now in her 40’s, has spent her entire life suffering from the trauma she endured at the hands of her father. She admits to being abused by her father from the time she was in preschool, all the way into high school. Humphrey’s husband, who has done all he could to support his wife during this painful time, attempted to relay to Mercy Corps just how badly his wife was struggling with the trauma. Mercy Corps made it clear that they stood by their initial assessment.

The Oregonian recently concluded a 10-month investigation into Culver and his daughter’s allegations. This led to the discovery of nearly a dozen of Humphrey’s friends from her early years who were aware of the abuse Humphrey had suffered by her father. Some say they witnessed the abuse in the family’s car and home. Others revealed they would often see injuries on Humphrey’s body due to the excessive force her father would use during the assaults. One friend of Humphrey even revealed her own abuse by Culver.

Mercy Corps is now faced with trying to save their organization as they clean up the mess that was made by the mishandled sexual abuse allegations over two decades ago.



Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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