(Jamaica Observer) Allegations of sexual misconduct have been levelled at an officer of the local arm of the Salvation Army — the Protestant Christian church and international charitable organisation that has developed a stellar reputation for helping the poor worldwide over many decades.
One woman has claimed that she had to engage in sexual acts with the officer for assistance from the Lyndhurst Road branch of the organisation, while another woman has accused the same official of inappropriate touching, tantamount to sexual assault.
But the Salvation Army officer at the centre of the scandal, Major Selburn Oates, has come out in staunch defence of his integrity, declaring, “I’m telling you, no, no, no. I did not do it.”
The women, who have asked not to be identified out of fear of public backlash, have both said that Oates has engaged in sexual acts and touching more than once with them.
Both women visited the Jamaica Observer recently.
One, who worked with the organisation for more than 15 years before agreeing to end her contract, said the work environment became “hostile”.
The former worker, in a letter dated February 26, 2019 and addressed “To whom it may concern”, said a copy was sent to the Salvation Army Caribbean Territory Headquarters outlining her concerns.
The woman indicated that she had worked with several Salvation Army majors and had never been treated badly until Oates took over six years ago.
“I have known the Salvation Army to be a reputable organisation for the poor and needy, but since this management took over the reputation has gone to a fever-pitched disgrace…” she said.
“He sexually and verbally assaulted customers, workers and myself. On a regular basis workers and customers [are] greeted with dirty words from his mouth and are faced with sexual advances,” the former worker wrote in the letter, a copy of which she showed the Sunday Observer.
She further stated that, while on duty and organising donations, the major “bite me in my back”.
She said after crying out in pain and protesting she was allegedly told by the officer, “A should a yuh [vagina] mi bite out.”
The former worker said she had to seek medical attention.
The Sunday Observer is in possession of a copy of the medical report, which confirmed that the worker was “bitten by a human” and that the injury was not serious.
“Major Oates is a hypogeal covered in Salvation Army’s uniform. He is trying to use his uniform to cover his sins. He is a disgrace to the organisation,” the former employee said.
She said after the incident she was demoted from her position as store supervisor and cashier to janitor.
“What is the Salvation Army about? Where is the salvation? Certainly not at 53 Lyndhurst Road. The half has not been told about the corruption at the Salvation Army. I am still contemplating a lawsuit against him and to press charges…” she said.
The organisation, she said, did not respond to her letter.
The Sunday Observer was later told that it was recommended that the woman part ways with the organisation.
She was paid a sum of money. She did not disclose the amount.
Major Oates’ other accuser, a frequent customer at the store, also detailed her alleged encounter with him, claiming sexual misconduct and harassment.
“What he does when you go over there for likkle assistance, him will want to hug you up and tell you seh fi come with him. Anyway, I am seen as the rebellious one. I went there one time and said to him, ‘I want a bed,’ but I did not want it for myself; I wanted the bed for somebody. He said, ‘OK, come back come check mi.’ This was 2017. I even had [the] encounter on video, but you know sometimes phone mash up and it never deh pon Google Keep,” the woman said.
“I have had oral sex before, so I wasn’t afraid of anything. You have to look at it. I am not a board member, so how me know how inna the boardroom stay if you never carry me in there? Whatever happened, happened in there with us. Mi come back the following day and mi tell them (workers) and, of course, mi get the bed. So it’s not like a since all this come up mek mi know seh him is not good,” the customer said.
She also accused the major of favouritism, alleging that she would collect Salvation Army supplies outside of regular hours.
She said workers at the organisation are able to corroborate her story.
“Since that, him nuh stop seh every time him see mi, if him nuh good enough fi come a my yard; if him nuh good enough fi get my something again,” she stated.
The alleged events later triggered several protests outside the organisation’s branch, with Kencot residents demanding that the major be relieved of his duties.
“He has to leave. Him haffi go! Him deh deh too long a keep up slackness. One next woman from up the road get things from him for sex, but lef’ out that name; she a married woman. If him deny weh wi seh him a tell lie. He has to go. Since we protest fi him lef’ him instruct them not to give us any food, but wi nuh care,” said Norma Alwood, a resident who spoke on behalf of those calling for the major’s resignation.
She said the complainant ,who no longer work at the Salvation Army is “a good, good woman weh nuh put up wid slackness, and because she go report him them seh it’s best she leave. But since she lef’ him haffi lef’ to”.
Another resident, who identified herself as Michelle Ranking, said the group will be demonstrating until Major Oates is removed.
“We a go back down deh until dem tek in wah wi a seh. Him haffi leave! Unuh nuh know who that man be. Him is a pastor doing all these things. Him haffi leave,” she said.
The Sunday Observer contacted the Salvation Army’s headquarters in St Andrew, outlining the allegations and was told by a man who identified himself as Commissioner Devon Haughton that he needed to apprise himself of what the allegations were about before he could respond.
Haughton was recently promoted to the rank of commissioner and appointed territorial commander (chief director of the work) of the 16 countries that comprise the Salvation Army Caribbean Territory.
Commissioner Haughton said he was aware of the worker’s report, but only learnt of the details after the Sunday Observer called two weeks ago.
He said the organisation would be looking into the matter.
He also committed to calling back the Sunday Observer the following day to outline the way forward.
However, since that conversation, five separate attempts, including a visit to the territory headquarters, to speak to the commissioner have been unsuccessful. His secretary indicated that the Sunday Observer “will just have to wait”.
As a result, the newspaper visited the Lyndhurst Road branch and interviewed the major at the centre of the controversy.
He was asked if he sexually assaulted the former worker by grabbing her vagina on at least one occasion and he flatly denied it.
The Sunday Observer also asked the major if he bit the former worker, and was told that the act was done in self-defence. He said he was attacked by the former employee and was only able to defend himself by biting her.
He also denied engaging in sexual acts with the customer in exchange for donations from the organisation.
“Miss, that is one thing I don’t get involved in with people. Many persons have come here, whether it’s burnt-out persons or drug addict or whatever, I try to help them on a daily basis. Most times when that is done I am not even here; Mrs Oates is the one who help them out,” he said.
“Which woman I give oral sex and bed? Miss, I don’t know nothing about that. I never had any interference with no woman here,” he added.
At the same time, Major Oates told the Sunday Observer that he was advised to demote the former worker, although her salary was not cut.
He said he later told the organisation that he didn’t think it best to have the former worker continue at the branch.