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Defining sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)

Sexual abuse means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. Any sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18 years) constitutes sexual abuse.

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. It includes but is not limited to exchanging money, employment, goods or services for sex. This includes transactional sex regardless of the legal status of sex work in the country. It also includes any situation where sex is coerced or demanded by withholding or threatening to withhold goods or services or by blackmailing.

Sexual harassment (SH)

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation*.  Sexual harassment may occur in or outside the workplace and during or outside working hours, including during official travel or social functions related to work. Sexual harassment is grave per se and inherently causes individual, social, and reputational harm. Sexual harassment is particularly serious when it interferes with work, is made a condition of employment, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. While typically involving a pattern of conduct, sexual harassment may take the form of a single incident. In assessing the reasonableness of expectations or perceptions, the perspective of the person who is the target of the conduct will be considered.  Sexual harassment is prohibited under staff rule 1.2 (f) and may also constitute sexual exploitation or abuse under staff rule 1.2 (e).

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.

* In the context of disciplinary proceedings, when assessing the reasonableness of the expectations or perceptions of the person alleged to have engaged in sexual harassment, the perspective of the person who is the target of the alleged conduct will be considered.