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What is sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment?

Image above: Za'atari's mental health clinic in Jordan.

To report misconduct please contact the UNHCR's Inspector General Office

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)

Sexual exploitation is defined as an actual or attempted abuse of someone's position of vulnerability (such as a person depending on you for survival, food rations, school, books, transport or other services), differential power or trust, to obtain sexual favours, including but not only, by offering money or other social, economic or political advantages. It includes trafficking and prostitution. 

Sexual abuse means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. It includes sexual slavery, pornography, child abuse and sexual assault. 

UN personnel are obligated to report whenever they reasonably suspect that SEA has occurred by a fellow worker, whether in the same agency or not and whether or not within the United Nations system.  

Sexual harassment (SH)

Sexual harassment affects personnel and is defined as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation. When such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment may occur in the workplace or in connection with work. While typically involving a pattern of conduct, sexual harassment may take the form of a single incident. In assessing whether the conduct causes offence, the perspective of the victim shall be considered. 

Sexual harassment can take various forms – from looks and words though to physical contact of a sexual nature. Examples of sexual harassment (non-exhaustive list) include: attempted or actual sexual assault, including rape; sharing or displaying sexually inappropriate images or videos in any format; sending sexually suggestive communications in any format; sharing sexual or lewd anecdotes or jokes; making inappropriate sexual gestures, such as pelvic thrusts; unwelcome touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person; staring in a sexually suggestive manner; repeatedly asking a person for dates or asking for sex; rating a person's sexuality; making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts; name-calling or using slurs with a gender/sexual connotation; making derogatory or demeaning comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The key difference between SEA and SH is the victim: in the case of SEA, the victim is a person of concern, or a member of the local or host community. In the case of SH, the victim is a fellow humanitarian worker, whether working with UNHCR or with another agency or partner organization. In both cases of SEA and SH, the perpetrator is a fellow humanitarian or development worker. Both forms of sexual misconduct are unacceptable, and UNHCR is committed to eradicating them from our operations and offices and ensuring that all victims receive the support they need.