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Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse


Definitions (as stated in ST/SGB/2003/13)


“The term “sexual exploitation” means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.” (UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) (ST/SGB/2003/13))

“The term “sexual abuse” means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.” (UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) (ST/SGB/2003/13))

SEA and Gender-Based Violence

“The term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Article 1, 1993 (A/RES/48/104)

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females. It is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women and girls' ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men and boys and it impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women and girls of human rights and fundamental freedoms under international law, including human rights conventions, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Around the world, GBV disproportionately affects women and girls because of their subordinate status to men and boys. As such, the term is most often used to highlight women and girls’ particular vulnerability to violence because of gender inequality. Nonetheless, men and boys also suffer GBV. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a form of gender-based violence.

The Challenge

Sexual exploitation and abuse represents a catastrophic failure of protection. It brings harm to those whom the UN and its partners (NGOs and International Organizations) are mandated to protect and jeopardizes the reputation of these organizations. It also violates universally recognized international legal norms and standards. Although sexual exploitation and abuse is not a new phenomenon, it was brought to the forefront of public attention in 2002 following allegations of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in West Africa. These grave and substantiated allegations highlighted both the vulnerability of such populations and the shortcomings of existing mechanisms to prevent such abuses from occurring.

Underreporting of SEA

Underreporting of SEA is a challenge for the international community. A 2008 Save the Children UK report concluded that sexual exploitation and abuse is chronically underreported. This assessment was shared by a 2008 HAP International study “To complain or not complain” . Several factors explain the underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse:

Source: “No One to Turn To – The under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers,” Save the Children, 2008