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.
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:
- Trading sex for food or other forms of support has become a survival tactic for the most vulnerable populations. As a result people will not speak out or report the abuse for fear of losing much-needed material assistance.
- The under-reporting is also related to the fear of stigmatization. Victims of abuse will refuse to report it for fear of being rejected or discriminated against by family or the community.
- In certain cultures girls and young women lose their dowry value if associated with sexual abuse or sexual relations before marriage. Thus, families will prefer to hide signs and evidence of sexual abuse in order to avoid reduction of economic returns when receiving a dowry in exchange for their daughters.
- A common deterrent against reporting abuse is the threat of retribution or retaliation. Children in particular fear their parents will beat them. Other victims fear retaliation from the perpetrator if speaking out or reporting the abuse.
- In most cases people lack knowledge on how to report an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse. In some cases confusion of reporting procedures were also evident among individual organizations
- Vulnerable groups feel powerless to report an abuse. Victims fear authorities will not believe them, that they will not receive the support of the family or they will be denied physical access to contact managers of the perpetrators’ organization.
- Communities experiencing humanitarian crisis lack effective legal services to which cases of abuse can be reported. Government services might not be available or the police dislocated, resulting in a chronic lack of faith in the response an allegation of sexual abuse would receive.
- In order to stop the abuse from occurring, punish the perpetrator and help the victim, one must understand the cultural barriers to reporting 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