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Politics News

Panel indicts More Than Me Foundation

-recommends prosecution

An Investigative Panel constituted in 2018 by the Liberian Advisory Board of the American Charity More Than Me (MTM) to investigate multiple and specific allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of female beneficiaries of MTM in Liberia releases an 18-count report here, indicting the charity for the abuses and recommending various actions, including prosecution.

An American online outlet, ProPublica in October 2018 published an investigative report titled, “Unprotected”, detailing allegations of how vulnerable young Liberian girls whom More Than Me Foundation (MTM) had promised protection from rape and other sexual exploitation were in fact, left unprotected by MTM and thereby abused by at least two staff of the charity.

ProPublica also accused MTM founder, Katie Meyler, an American, of creating the environment that facilitated the abuse of teenage girls as young as 10 and that upon discovery of the abuses, did little or nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Report notes that the conduct and other actions of staff Macintosh Johnson and Cyrus Cooper each, established a prima facie case of statutory rape while they were in the employ of MTM

The Panel says More Than Me has responsibility and may be held liable civilly or otherwise for the acts of its employees – Cyrus Cooper and Macintosh Johnson, and also for not reporting the rape allegation.

“MTM as an organization, along with its directors, CEO and other senior officers involved in handling the two incidents may be found to have violated the Children Law of 2011 (“Children Law”), especially the provisions of the Children Law dealing with (i) the principles of the best interest of the Child, (ii) the standards for child protection practitioners, and (iii) the failure “to report a case of child abuse or neglect”, the report establishes.

It particularly notes the records tend to show that MTM did not (i) ‘take as a
primary consideration, the best interest of the survivors as required by Section 1.2 of Article VIII of the Children Law; ‘demonstrate dedication to duty and commitment to the protection of every child, especially such a child as may be in need of protection’, as required by Section 1.2(d)) of Article VIII of the Children Law; (iii) iteratively assess and respond to any risk that may result in any child’s vulnerability to abuse, exploitation, and neglect, as required by Section 1.2(f) of Article VIII of the Children Law; demonstrate a holistic approach in child protection work aimed at achieving results that prevent, and respond to child
exploitation and abuse”, as required by Section 1.2(g) of Article VIII of the Children Law.

The Panel further notes the abuse of the MTM beneficiaries, all girls in Liberia and/or the delay in discovering the abuse can be traced to the decision of Katie to start MTM’s operation in the country at private home(s) without necessary policies, structures, and established offices, including her (Katie’s) romantic relationship with and high trust in Macintosh Johnson.

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The Panel observes the action of Katie Meyler in granting Macintosh Johnson near sole authority in deciding who obtains and maintains the MTM scholarship; allowing him to be alone with one or a few of the minor students, and failing to report her fear or suspicion that Macintosh breached the duty of care owed the children and her safeguarding obligations to the survivors as per the provisions of the Children Law of Liberia, and Katie’s romantic relationship with Macintosh Johnson, which it describes as a key factor that negatively influenced her handling of or response to the Macintosh case, including her reluctance to have gone to testify in the trialdespite repeated knowledge of the defense’s key arguments that the prosecution was nothing more than the machination of Katie against
Macintosh because he did not want to marry her thus, terminated their romantic relationship is an astonishing failure of oversight and/or refusal to accept responsibility and be accountable.

At the same time, it notes the Ministry of Education did not adequately exercise its
accreditation and supervisory functions first, in allowing the charity to open here without first obtaining due accreditation, and in allowing or seeing More Than Me operate as an all-girl school without having seen, reviewed and been satisfied with the background and experience of adequate female administrative staff as is and would usually be the case, especially in light of the Ministry’s experience with a number of other “all-girls” schools that have operated or are operating in the country.

It says unless written evidence is shown of effective, executed consent of use of the names and photos and other information of the girls, MTM use of such information was wrongful under Liberian law and probably US laws, and that it has more than just a moral obligation to the survivors, and the quantum and uncertain duration of the current support being provided them is manifestly inadequate, especially in light of the fact that at least one of the survivors is HIV-positive.

“There is probably more that we did not uncover in respect of each of the two incidents given that the Panel did not have power to subpoena documents or compel attendance or testimonies of people believed to have relevant information”, the Report concludes.

Meanwhile, the Panel recommends that in any and all responses by whomever to the Macintosh and Cyrus Cooper rape cases and/or MTM’s handling of each matter or the liability of responsible persons, all efforts should be made to consider the best interest of the survivors consistent with the provisions of the children
law; and this should include respecting their requests that MTM be allowed and continued to operate in an appropriate environment that adequately protects them from abuse and also ensure compliance with applicable laws and best safeguarding practices especially pertaining to children.

It wants MTM, as an organization, and the MTM Board as the body
responsible for and vested with the management of MTM to accept full responsibility and liability for the incidents in question and work with stakeholders to establish a path for moving forward based on openness, accountability, and due respect for the best interest of its beneficiaries, the girls.

“That MTM should make reasonably adequate provision for the sustainable financial support of the survivors, which should substantially be greater than what is currently provided. This could entail the establishment of a trust fund for survivors known and others that may come forward or be identified in the future.

That Katie Meyler accepts responsibility and/or be held liable to the fullest extent of applicable law (s) for her actions, inaction and decisions that caused or contributed to Macintosh Johnson and Cyrus Cooper abusing the girls, and delayed [in] discovery/reporting of the abuses and rapes.”

It also recommends that Saul Garlick should accept full responsibility and liability for his actions and omissions that contributed to MTM’s failure to have reported
the Cyrus Cooper rape incident to the competent authority, and that the Report be shared with the Government of Liberia to enable it hopefully (i) investigate and, if necessary, prosecute Cyrus Cooper and any other person(s) who assisted him with the alleged rape, among other actions. By Jonathan Browne

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