Mercy Corps CEO resigns amid turmoil over abuse allegations

The Mercy Corps CEO resigned Thursday, two days after an Oregonian/OregonLive investigation found that executives at the global humanitarian aid group allowed co-founder Ellsworth Culver to remain in a top role after his daughter accused him of serial sexual abuse.

The 65-year-old Neal Keny-Guyer had led Mercy Corps since 1994. His abrupt departure is a stunning development for the $471-million-a-year charity and the result of pressure from Mercy Corps employees who are furious over the organization's handling of Tania Culver Humphrey's sexual abuse allegations in the 1990s and again last year, The Oregonian reported .

"My failure to intervene and change the course of how the organization responded to the Humphrey's hotline enquiries in late 2018 has shaken me to my core," Keny-Guyer wrote in his resignation letter. "If I am going to morally own this — and I believe this in my soul — then I need to take the ultimate action."

The resignation came after Mercy Corps was told the newspaper found that agency executives knew co-founder Ellsworth Culver had been accused of sexual abuse in the early 1990s. Culver died in 2005.

Mercy Corps board co-chair Gisel Kordestani said Thursday that Barnes Ellis, senior legal counsel for the organization, has also resigned. Long-serving board member Robert Newell resigned earlier this week.

Kordestani said the board "today heard global Mercy Corps employees' demands for accountability and responsibility."

The nonprofit employs 5,500 people and oversees operations in more than 40 countries from disaster relief to food and safe drinking water programs.

Mercy Corps also this week removed tributes to Culver from its website and took down photos of him at their headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

Amy Ibold, Mercy Corps senior adviser for adolescent girls and youth, called the revelations devastating.

"We've all pushed to move more swiftly," she said. "People are angry and really heartbroken."

Humphrey said she is overwhelmed by Mercy Corps employees' support and their forceful role in pushing for change at the top.

"I am touched by the employees' response, by their outreach," she said. "It's a place that has carried massive pain for me but it also felt like a part of my home."

As for Keny-Guyer's resignation, she said she is "glad he is taking personal responsibility."

"It's important because he is, was the head of this institution," Humphrey said. "He knew things that happened and he made choices that break my heart."

In an interview Tuesday, Keny-Guyer said he didn't know Mercy Corps board members in the 1990s had allowed Culver to continue in a top role for over a decade even though Humphrey had credibly accused her father of serial sexual abuse from when she was in preschool into her teens.

But Keny-Guyer acknowledged he was aware last year that Mercy Corps rebuffed Humphrey, now 48, and her husband when they asked the humanitarian agency to revisit how it handled her allegations.

Keny-Guyer took responsibility for Mercy Corps' treatment of Humphrey last fall. "I feel awful," he said. "I am horrified and profoundly sorry if we have contributed to her pain."

In their 10-month investigation, The Oregonian/OregonLive reviewed Humphrey's medical and mental health records from her teen years, as well as two child abuse reports to the state and hundreds of pages of Humphrey's personal records.

All of those documents are replete with references to Culver's sexual abuse of his daughter. The newspaper also identified eight friends from her childhood and teen years who confirmed that Humphrey told them about the abuse at the time.

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Humphrey identified herself in the newspaper's investigative story.

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com