PORTLAND, Ore. — Tania Culver Humphrey, the daughter of the man who helped start Portland-based Mercy Corps, said her father sexually abused her for decades.
"He sexually abused me for years, preschool through high school,” she said.
The Oregonian first reported her story on Tuesday. Her father was Ellsworth Culver, who was a co-founder of Mercy Corps.
The organization, until now, has carried an impeccable reputation with a budget running into the hundreds of millions. The organization has also helped 220 million people over the past 40 years.
Tania told members of the Mercy Corps board about her father's abuse in the early 1990s. It took every ounce of courage she had.
"It was very intimidating to me. Scary. I knew them from growing up,” she said.
“They had a lot of documents. They had a lot of information and they had plenty of information to act or to know it was credible. And giving them all that I did during that time was extremely traumatic. It’s hard for me to think I had courage during that time because I was terrified all the time,” Tania said.
At the end of the investigation, Mercy Corps took no action. Her father's position of prestige and power remained safe.
“They continued to keep him in power. They knew and they continued to keep him in power for years,” said Tania.
She tried to get on with her life. But it was rough.
“It changed everything. I've lived in fear of being close to people and telling them about my life ... I had to protect Mercy Corps, I had to protect my dad. I had to protect the starving people, you know? I had to be quiet in order to protect other people. And it was hard to get close to people because I was afraid all the time,” she said.
Her husband brought up the issue again last year to Mercy Corps because Tania still struggled with the emotional turmoil.
And again, Mercy Corps did nothing. That's when she decided to trust The Oregonian and go public.
“It’s important to me, to myself, that I know I don't have to live in shame. It's also important to me to tell other people they don't have to live in shame either. They can be their full self. Nobody has to hide, I hope. I don't want anybody to hide," she said.
She felt the message coming from Mercy Corps was to protect the brand at all costs.
“Their mission was of utmost importance. And I was supposed to sacrifice for their mission. That’s how I felt,” she said.
Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer issued a statement apologizing to Tania.
"The details of sexual abuse allegations made against Mercy Corps' late co-founder Ellsworth Culver in The Oregonian are horrific. Had I known this information when I joined Mercy Corps as CEO in 1994, Ellsworth Culver would not have remained at the organization.
"When Ms. Humphrey reached out to Mercy Corps in 2018, we had an opportunity to right a wrong. Instead, we failed her with our response. She should be commended for her courage in bringing these issues to us. And we didn't do enough to listen to her. We added to Ms. Humphrey's suffering and for that, I am deeply sorry and profoundly apologetic."
But Tania believes Keny-Guyer must have known something when those allegations resurfaced last year.
“He's responsible for what he knew then. He's the CEO of the company. And you know what they did in the 90s was not OK, and it was not just individuals, they represented Mercy Corps. What happened in 2018, an echo of the past, shows a cultural problem. And I feel he needs to be held accountable for his responsibility—the CEO of this company. He knew all that stuff that was there. Seems like he should have acted,” Tania said.
There are many more questions to ask about Mercy Corps before this story is over. They declined to go on camera on Wednesday, Oct. 9.
In the meantime, there is the issue of the little girl, now a grown woman, who always wanted a dad but got a monster instead.
When asked if she was relieved when her father died in 2005, Tania said, "He was my dad. I don’t think I felt a lot of relief. I never had a chance to have a dad and I never would. Am I relieved he is not hurting other people? Yeah. That he can’t hurt me? Yeah,” she said.