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A victim-centred approach

WARNING the video above may be considered disturbing by some viewers and may trigger emotional distress. This video contains testimonies of victims and was developed under one of the initiatives undertaken by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi as an IASC Champion on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment.  

In December 2020, the High Commissioner issued a Policy on a Victim-Centred Approach in UNHCR’s response to Sexual Misconduct – the first ever policy of its kind in the UN system. It focuses on ensuring the safety, rights, well-being and expressed needs and choices of victims/ survivors when responding to sexual misconduct.

Putting victims at the centre of our efforts requires that they feel safe, free to speak up and to seek advice and help. It also means that we listen to them and provide support and assistance in a safe and sensitive manner.

Putting victims first

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) represent a grave breach of trust and of the right to safety, security and dignity of refugees. Sexual harassment (SH) undermines the right of personnel to be safe and treated with dignity and respect in the workplace and in connection with work.

UNHCR is committed to take all necessary action to prevent and respond decisively to sexual misconduct and to put the protection, rights and dignity of refugee-victims and staff-victims at the forefront.

Victim-Centred Approach is a way of engaging with victims that prioritizes listening, avoids re-traumatization, and systematically focuses on their safety, rights, well-being, expressed needs and choices. The purpose is to give back as much control to victims as feasible and ensure empathetic delivery of services in a non-judgmental manner.

Victim care in action

Victims of sexual harassment are supported by UNHCR’s Victim Care Officer. This support is automatically provided to victims unless they choose otherwise, shifting the onus from the individual to the organization. The Victim Care Officer, a Clinical Psychologist, provides psychosocial support, confidential guidance on processes and services, supports decision making, accompanies victims through the process, coordinates action on their behalf, and assesses risks and individual needs. This service also provides guidance to witnesses and advice to managers on support and risk mitigation for sexual harassment.

UNHCR’s global network of 400 peer advisors also provides critical support in the context of harassment, particularly in preventing and mitigating tensions and grievances, supporting colleagues, and promoting better workplaces.

UNHCR has another network of 400 PSEA focal points with specific responsibilities related to the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, including helping refugee-victims access support resources as well as through carrying out training and awareness-raising activities. Their presence across 132 countries is a key factor in helping identify and support victims.

UNHCR's Senior Coordinator on PSEA/SH meets with the organization We Are Alight who prevent and respond to Gender-Based-Violence, Sudan.

In line with the Victim-Centred Approach, victims of SEA receive multi-sectoral support through gender-based violence and child protection programmes. Standard operating procedures are in place at the field level, in camps and urban settings, to ensure the safety of victims who report abuse and to guide their safe referral to services such as legal, medical and psychosocial support.

Mildred Ouma, Former Senior Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Officer and PSEA Focal Point:

"Engaging with communities has been at the centre of the operation's work on SEA prevention. To gain the trust of communities and encourage victims to speak up, the operation continues to put in place measures to ensure a responsive, empathetic, transparent and consistent response, and strives to provide regular feedback in addition to the multi-sectoral support offered."