A sexual abuse scandal involving a founder of one of Portland’s most respected international nonprofits has forced out its longtime chief executive officer.
Mercy Corps head Neal Keny-Guyer has resigned in the wake of reporting by The Oregonian/OregonLive. It found that the organization Keny-Guyer led for a quarter century ignored reports of sexual abuse by Ellsworth Culver, one of the leader’s longtime colleagues.
Keny-Guyer said in his resignation letter, “I should have done better. Mercy Corps deserves better.”
Keny-Guyer admitted that Mercy Corps ignored accusations from Tania Culver Humphrey, the daughter of co-founder Ellsworth Culver. Humphrey said her father had sexually abused her for a period of years and that the Portland-based international nonprofit had been told. The newspaper account says Mercy Corps leaders allowed Culver to remain in his job even after his daughter told them of the abuse in the 1990s and then again in 2018. Ellsworth Culver died in 2005.
In his resignation letter, Keny-Guyer expressed both pride at Mercy Corps’s success as an organization and optimism for the future. But he also expressed his intention to “morally own” the mishandling of Culver’s allegations.
“[M]y 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. He goes on to write that he didn’t have “full information” about the abuse accusations, but acknowledges he also “didn’t pay full attention.”
Mercy Corps confirmed that Keny-Guyer’s resignation follows two other high-profile departures in the wake of The Oregonian’s reporting. Barnes Ellis, Mercy Corps’ corporate secretary and senior legal counsel, resigned this week, and Robert Newell stepped down from his position on the Mercy Corps board of directors.
Mercy Corps said it is starting to search for a new CEO right away. In a statement, board co-chair Gisel Kordestani promised to dig further into how the abuse complaint was mishandled.
“The Mercy Corps Board has initiated an independent, external review to examine the organization’s handling of Ms. Humphrey’s report to the Mercy Corps integrity hotline in 2018. That review will also examine Mercy Corps’ safeguarding policies and leadership accountability,” Kordestani said in the statement.