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Tackling sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment

Tackling sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment

Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse against the people we serve, together with sexual harassment in the workplace, is a top priority for UNHCR.
UNHCR partner sits on the floor and talks with a refugee woman

Image above: UNHCR partner trains refugee women in gender-based violence counselling.

With some 18,000 personnel based primarily in field operations across the globe, in direct contact with forcibly displaced and stateless people, UNHCR is one of the biggest and most operational UN agencies.

UNHCR works with more than 1,000 partners who have direct contact with communities to serve more than 110 million people globally.

UNHCR works in very diverse contexts and often complex environments where significant power differentials and deeply rooted inequalities, including gender inequalities, can exacerbate the risks of exploitation, abuse, and harassment. UNHCR is committed to fighting inequality, empowering survivors, and preventing and responding to sexual misconduct wherever it occurs.  

There is no place for sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment at UNHCR, an organization that is dedicated to serving and protecting others.

UNHCR comprises a large, diverse, and profoundly committed workforce, many of whom often work in challenging environments, sometimes risking their safety and well-being. The risks of sexual exploitation (SEA) and abuse and sexual harassment (SH) are often exacerbated in high-risk and complex contexts, resulting in heightened vulnerabilities of the forcibly displaced and stateless people we serve and power differentials among colleagues.

UNHCR’s Strategy and Action Plan against sexual misconduct

The Office of the Senior Coordinator on PSEA and SH comprises a team of technical experts overseeing and coordinating policy development and implementation, field support, training and learning development and delivery, victim support, interagency engagement, external relations, and communications related to tackling sexual misconduct.

The team is supported by a cross-functional working group made up of relevant entities, including the Inspector General’s Office, the Ethics Office, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Legal Affairs Service, the Division of International Protection, the Division of Human Resources, the Division of External Relations, Enterprise Risk Management, the Division of Strategic Planning and Results, the Field Security Service, the Innovation Service.

Reporting misconduct

We strive to ensure that reporting mechanisms are known, accessible and trusted and that victims who report sexual misconduct feel safe and protected. We have reinforced mechanisms to ensure that cases of sexual exploitation and abuse are reported, using a range of complaints mechanisms, including face to face engagement, mobile phone technology and call centres.  

UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office acts as an independent internal oversight body. To report misconduct, follow the link here.

The SpeakUp! Helpline is a confidential independent helpline available to UNHCR colleagues who wish to report misconduct or obtain advice on what to do when in doubt. The helpline is managed by an external provider and is available 24/7 by phone, through a web form and a mobile application. It offers the possibility to report in complete anonymity.

UNHCR colleagues may contact the Victim Care Officer as the first port-of-call in relation to concerns over sexual harassment. She provides confidential guidance on processes and services, supports decision making, accompanies victims through the process, provides psychosocial support, coordinates action on their behalf, as well as assesses risks and individual needs. This service also provides guidance to witnesses and advice to managers on support and risk mitigation for sexual harassment.

*In line with the current accepted broader UN approach, we are using the term 'victim' while acknowledging that the term survivor may also be appropriate and preferred in certain contexts (e.g., responding to gender-based violence). As an example of the UN use of the term victim, see, e.g.