1. Overview

Exploitation and abuse is a global phenomenon that exists in most cultures irrespective of material wealth, religion or state ideology. The World Health Organization (WHO) Report on Violence and Health (WHO, 2002) states that about 20 percent of women and five to 10 percent of men have suffered sexual abuse as children. Studies from around the world appear to confirm these figures, although some studies have higher figures (Heiberg, 2001).

The term SEA is used specifically to refer to incidents of sexual misconduct committed by humanitarian workers against beneficiaries. While CARE is equally committed to addressing sexual harassment and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), this chapter focuses on prevention of and response to SEA.

We define ‘humanitarian workers’ broadly to include staff and related personnel such as board members, volunteers, personnel or employees of non-CARE entities or individuals who have entered into a cooperative arrangement with CARE (including interns, international and local consultants, individual and corporate contractors, and experts on mission).

1.1.1 Definitions

Sexual harassment (SH)

Any unwelcome, usually repeated and unreciprocated sexual advance, unsolicited sexual attention, demand for sexual access or favours, sexual innuendo or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when it unreasonably interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. The term sexual harassment is used to refer to all incidents of sexual misconduct, including sexual violence and rape in the workplace by the employer, among employees.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)

SGBV is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental, or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. While women, men, boys and girls can be victims of gender-based violence, women and girls are the main victims. The term SGBV is used to refer to incidents occurring in the programme communities and wider society external to CARE.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is the abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes. This includes profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another (UN Secretary General’s Bulletin definition, refer Annex 33.1).

Sexual abuse

This is the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, including inappropriate touching, by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Examples of sexual exploitation and abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • using gestures, looks, remarks or physical contact that is overtly sexual and used as means to intimidate or frighten beneficiaries from receiving their relief entitlements and rights
  • CARE staff or members of partner organisations asking boys, girls or other members of a beneficiary group for sex in return for food and other necessity items
  • community leaders working on behalf of CARE or its partner asking for sexual favours, resistance to which could lead to the non-inclusion in the beneficiary list for relief packages.

1.1.2 Principles of defining sexual harassment/exploitation

  • The subjective perception of the recipient of the behaviour in question is foremost in determining whether an act constitutes sexual exploitation.
  • Sexual exploitation involves intentional abuse of power one has over the ‘exploited’.
  • Sexual exploitation can be direct or indirect, manifested in terms of words, gestures, non-verbal cues and physical force.
  • Sexual exploitation and abuse is often seen as a ‘women’s issue’, with women being seen as victims and men as perpetrators. Sexual exploitation is an issue that concerns both men and women equally.

In an emergency, there is often a breakdown of normal protective institutions such as the family, community, government and police. Sustainable means of livelihood are affected, and there are huge psychosocial implications on the lives of people affected. In such a scenario, the likelihood of exploitation or abuse, especially of a sexual nature, increases due to increased vulnerability and powerlessness experienced by those who survive the emergency situation. The urgent nature of work in emergencies also creates additional challenges in addressing sexual exploitation and abuse.

Often, sexual exploitation and abuse is the direct result of power inequality within work and community relationships. Emergencies can shift the power balances that existed within communities. This shift in power can increase the vulnerabilities of certain groups. For example, a large number of children could be separated from their parents. As a group, children (boys and girls under the age of 18) and women are the most vulnerable to harassment and exploitation.

There are many sources of power, including position and level of formal authority, gender and education, which create power imbalances between humanitarian workers and beneficiaries. In addition, the massive resources (food and non-food items) that come with the emergencies contribute heavily to change positions of power by further increasing the power that humanitarian workers have. These resources contribute not only to increased likelihood of sexual exploitation, but also to other ills, such as corruption and conflict. Humanitarian workers must therefore be held accountable to ensure there is no abuse of that power.

In an environment of perceived power imbalances, beneficiaries may be reluctant to report sexual harassment/exploitation for any of the following reasons:

  • fear that source of income/support may be cut off
  • fear of reprisal or further abuse
  • fear of backlash on their family members
  • lack of support from family
  • lack of education
  • inherent hierarchy between CARE staff and beneficiary group
  • fear of being disbelieved
  • lack of information about the complaints and response mechanisms
  • mistrust/lack of confidence in the system
  • fear of losing status/loss of reputation
  • cultural norms and practices
  • acceptance of behaviour by minimising or denying its impact.

CARE’s vision requires us to focus on discrimination, dignity, security and human rights as central to our work of eliminating poverty. Sexual exploitation and abuse is an issue that goes to the heart of our vision and values, and we need to uphold these values in our programmes as well as in all our interactions with programme participants, our partners and within the organisation.

Our work to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse of people of concern is based on principles enshrined in international and national laws protecting refugees and displaced people, and in measures for the protection of beneficiaries from exploitation and abuse, such as the United Nations Secretary General’s Bulletin (Annex 33.1). The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provides a comprehensive code of rights that offers the highest standards of protection and assistance for children of any international instrument. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (A/RES/48/104) (DEVAW) set the standards for the protection of the rights of women and girls. The declaration affirms that violence against women (including sexual exploitation) is a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women, and impairs their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms. It notes that refugee women are ‘especially vulnerable to violence’. Additionally, staff working in a country should always refer to the national law of the state and the various mechanisms for their implementation.

The prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in an emergency response is also important because of the potentially disproportionate impact that sexual exploitation and abuse can have in such situations on those affected, and the longer-term effect on recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation. While this section focuses on taking necessary steps to prevent the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, equally critical are precautions and measures for managing those risks and sexual harassment within programme management as they occur. Some of these steps are included in section 2.3.

Emergencies demand responsible and proactive programming that takes all necessary precautions to prevent the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Careful analysis must be conducted to determine ways in which power balances have shifted and implications these changes have on programmes.

Some practical examples from our work on how simple measures can reduce the incidence of sexual exploitation and abuse of women perpetrated by men include:

  • special considerations in the spatial design of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps
  • IDP camps with separate bathing areas for men and women
  • employing female distribution officers
  • designing projects that target men to reduce sexual exploitation and abuse cases
  • designing strategies to disseminate the relief entitlements and criteria to all potential beneficiaries, and public validations of beneficiary lists.

We are accountable to those we seek to help. It is of paramount importance that we conduct ourselves in a professional manner and make sincere efforts towards preventing and eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse. In December 2006, CARE reiterated its resolve to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse by signing the statement of commitment developed jointly by a number of UN and non-UN agencies (Annex 33.2).

1.3.1 Key concepts of high-level statement of commitment on SEA by UN and non-UN agencies

  • The legal basis for protecting people of concern from exploitation and abuse is established in international law.
  • International law recognises the specific rights of women and children.

International refugee, human rights and humanitarian law, together with regional and national law, constitute the broad framework for the protection of people of concern. Humanitarian workers should rely on this framework in their day-to-day work of protecting people of concern, including women, adolescents, boys and girls.