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More Than Me CEO temporarily resigns amid Liberia rape scandal

Katie Meyler hugs a childImage copyrightInstagram/ Katie Meyler
Image caption Katie Meyler’s work has been celebrated by leading philanthropists but allegations of a sex abuse cover-up have emerged

The CEO of a US-backed academy in Liberia has temporarily resigned after a report found that dozens of girls were allegedly raped by an employee.

Katie Meyler, the CEO of charity More Than Me, announced she would step aside after a report by ProPublica and Time magazine revealed the abuse.

More Than Me says they have taken steps to safeguard girls at the school, which is devoted to women’s empowerment.

The group has also created a panel to review the investigation.

The non-governmental organisation’s (NGO) advisory board recommended an independent investigation into allegations of widespread abuse and negligence at the institution, which exists to protect young Liberian girls from sexual abuse and exploitation.

In a statement on Monday, a committee of seven Liberian government agencies said it met twice since the story was published on Thursday, with the aim “to taking the appropriate legal actions to protect the children and ensure they are safe”, Time magazine reported.

The NGO had received almost $600,000 (£456,000) from the US government, and Ms Meyler had been praised by celebrity philanthropists including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. She had also received an invitation to the White House by former President Barack Obama.

During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, western media organisations – including the BBC – profiled Ms Meyler and her Instagram account, where she documented the struggles of the Liberians she met.

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She was named among Time Magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year, which was dedicated to the first responders to the Ebola crisis.

More Than Me now runs 19 schools in Liberia, teaching approximately 4,000 students.

What is the allegation?

According to the investigative report, Ms Meyler entrusted a local man named Macintosh Johnson to recruit vulnerable young girls in the West Point slum of Liberia’s capital Monrovia for her school, which opened in 2013.

Johnson, who later died from AIDS in prison, was her main contact on the ground while she continued to live outside of Liberia for up to 10 months a year.

According to police records, Johnson repeatedly raped several young girls under his care at his home and on school property.

Of the 10 girls who testified against Johnson at the time, one tested positive for HIV, according to a statement from More Than Me’s Liberian advisory board.

After his arrest in 2014, no members of More Than Me attended the trial to testify against him, according to the report.

The girls and their families reportedly feared going to charity administrators or public officials because they did not want to risk losing access to the charity’s resources such as education, food and health services.

The report claims that despite being made aware of the sexual abuse allegations at the school, Ms Meyler and charity officials ignored the crimes.

One board member told ProPublica that Ms Meyler called him to say the allegations were “really, really, really bad”, and perhaps involved “all the girls over 11” at the school.

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Ms Meyler spoke the following day at a Forbes summit on philanthropy where she called the academy “the best school in Liberia”.

What does the charity say?

In a statement announcing her temporary resignation, Ms Myeler said: “Over the past 10 years, it has been my life’s work to serve in our mission to provide the most vulnerable girls of Liberia with a quality education and opportunities for advancement so they can have better lives.

“My first priority has always been to support these girls.”

The organisation’s board of directors denies the claims of negligence saying that they took “swift and immediate” action against Johnson – who they view as the sole wrongdoer – after the girls first revealed the sexual abuse.

“It is beyond disheartening and extremely sad to see ProPublica depict the organisation in such a decidedly one-sided, biased and inaccurate manner, and we vigorously deny their characterisation of our actions, or lack thereof,” the board said in a statement.

“As an organisation whose enduring mission it is to support the most vulnerable girls in Liberia by getting them off the streets and into schools, More Than Me is deeply sorry that in 2013 and 2014, a former staff member who was recommended to us highly was able to exploit his position to commit sexual assault.

“We extend our sincerest apology to the survivors, and continue doing everything within our power to support them, their families and the community at large who have been impacted by this heinous crime.”

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