FAQ: How did Mercy Corps respond to details of abuse by co-founder Ellsworth Culver?

Last updated November 8, 2019

Mercy Corps’ global team of 5,500 humanitarians around the world has been shaken by recent revelations that Tania Culver Humphrey, daughter of Mercy Corps’ co-founder Ellsworth Cullver, brought details of sexual abuse perpetrated by him to the attention of the organization in the early 1990s and again in 2018.

Those at Mercy Corps who engaged with Ms. Humphrey, both in the early 1990s and again last year, failed her and failed to live up to our values.

Senior leaders at Mercy Corps have taken responsibility for the organization’s failings. Mercy Corps’ Board of Directors is initiating an independent, external review to examine how people and processes failed, in order to correct any governance and management issues and make sure nothing like this ever happens again. This action to address how Mercy Corps failed Ms. Humphrey is just the beginning. We are determined to do whatever it takes to become a stronger ally for survivors of abuse and to rebuild trust with our team members around the world, our partners, program participants, donors and the wider community.

We have been listening to the feedback, comments and questions submitted by our supporters. Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions. We will update this page as new information is made available.


Q: Is Mercy Corps bringing in outside help to investigate how senior leaders responded to Ms. Humphrey?

A: Yes — our Board of Directors has initiated an independent, external review to thoroughly examine the organization’s handling of Ms. Humphrey’s contact with Mercy Corps in 2018 and Mercy Corps’ safeguarding policies and leadership accountability. The board is committed to a thorough, independent, and transparent review and will act immediately to correct any governance and management issues identified by that review.

Q: Who is doing the external review and how were they chosen?

A: The Mercy Corps Board announced that Vestry Laight will conduct the independent investigation into what steps were taken in 2018 after Tania Culver Humphrey and her husband asked Mercy Corps to re-examine its 1993 investigation into her abuse. Vestry Laight begins its investigation immediately, and will interview current and former Mercy Corps staff and board members. Vestry Laight was selected based on its team’s extensive experience working with survivors in a variety of contexts and ability to understand their needs and concerns. The firm has a depth of expertise in helping organizations respond to and resolve sexual misconduct issues, as well as conducting sexual abuse investigations and developing solutions to improve treatment of survivors.

Q: Will the findings of the independent review be made public?

A: Yes. The final report will be made available to all Mercy Corps employees, donors and partners and published on our website. 

Q: Are the original people who were part of the 1990s investigation still a part of your organization?

A: No board member who was involved in the investigation in the 1990s currently has any role at Mercy Corps. Former board member Robert Newell, who was involved in the 1990s investigation, resigned from the Mercy Corps Board of Directors following the revelations in The Oregonian.

Q: Are the people who were part of the response to Ms. Humphrey in 2018 still a part of your organization?

A: Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer took responsibility for the organization’s mishandling of the 2018 request and resigned. As Mercy Corps CEO since 1994, Keny-Guyer was instrumental in building Mercy Corps into the global organization it is today, and he and the board agreed that his resignation was in Mercy Corps’ best interest. Keny-Guyer’s resignation followed the resignation of Barnes Ellis, Corporate Secretary and Senior Legal Counsel, who responded to Ms. Humphrey in 2018.

The Board has initiated an independent, external review to thoroughly examine the organization’s handling of Ms. Humphrey’s contact with Mercy Corps in 2018 and Mercy Corps’ safeguarding policies and leadership accountability. The board needs to conduct a thorough review to obtain all the facts in order to fairly and consistently remedy the situation, and does not want to take any premature action in regards to people who may have known fragments of information on the matter.

Q: What is Mercy Corps doing to ensure serious issues like this are properly handled?

A: Mercy Corps takes seriously its responsibility to ensure team members, operations and programs do no harm to those we work with or put vulnerable populations at risk of abuse or exploitation. If we were to receive an allegation of this nature about an employee today, we would suspend the individual. We would report the allegations to law enforcement. We would report to the Board.

If an allegation of sexual abuse or harassment were to involve an Executive or a Board Member we would take extra care to ensure the independence of the investigation and the objectivity of the conclusions, including hiring external expert investigators.

Q: Will your safeguarding and associated policies be updated or revised in light of this?

A: A review of these policies will be a part of the external, independent review examining the organization’s handling of Ms. Humphrey’s report to the Mercy Corps integrity hotline in 2018.

Our policies on Ethics Complaints and Whistleblowing, Child Safeguarding, Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Beneficiaries and Community Members, Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace and Anti-Trafficking are available on our website. We provide multiple avenues by which team members, partners, program participants, and community members can report concerns, including anonymously. While Mercy Corps has implemented strong global policies to ensure our team members, operations and programs do no harm to those with whom we work and respond in a survivor-centered way when issues do arise, we still have much to learn from this situation about how to be a stronger ally to survivors of abuse. We’re determined that we learn all we can from our failures and do better.

Q: Are you investigating who else may have been victimized by Ellsworth Culver?

A: The thought that Culver could have abused additional vulnerable children during his time at Mercy Corps is deeply concerning for us.

While we are not aware of any other reports of potential abuse by Mr. Culver, we are currently examining how we could conduct an investigation into this matter, given the time passed since Ellsworth Culver’s death in 2005.

Q: Are you re-opening past complaints and investigations that may have been mishandled?

A: The Board is reviewing previously registered abuse reports to ensure proper actions were taken.

Q: If there are other victims, where can they report their experiences?

A: We provide multiple avenues for team members, participants and community members to confidentially report concerns, including an Integrity Hotline email address (integrityhotline@mercycorp.org) and an independent, third-party reporting platform. This platform allows for anonymous reporting and can be accessed online at http://mercycorps.org/integrityhotline or by phone in most countries where we operate.

Our policies on Ethics Complaints and Whistleblowing, Child Safeguarding, Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Beneficiaries and Community Members, Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace and Anti-Trafficking are available here.

Q: If I want to be interviewed as part of the independent investigation, who can I contact?

A: You are encouraged to reach out and speak candidly to Sara Darehshori, an investigator at Vestry Laight at sdarehshori@vestrylaight.com.