Further guidance

Please note that this page currently shows a previous version of CAPSEAH, and is being updated.

These actions are recommended to help all people and organisations working in HDP settings to do all they can to protect from SEAH.  Different types and sizes of organisation can implement them in a way that is proportionate and most relevant to their work. 

Actions are collated from existing well-established standards, policies and guidance on PSEAH[1]. The Common Approach sets out key actions across five levels ranging from the global perspective down to the individual level. Key documents are signposted throughout and a full list of documents consulted is included here.

[1] The IASC Six Core Principles on PSEA; the IASC Minimum Operating Standards on PSEA; the CHS Alliance PSEAH Index; UN guidance including the 2003 UNSG Bulletin on Special Measures for PSEA and the UN’s 2017 report on Special Measures for PSEA: a new approach; the UN System Model Policy on Sexual Harassment; Guide for Managers: Prevention of, and Response to, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace; the donor-agreed DAC Recommendation on ending SEAH; the 2018 Safeguarding Summit Commitments; including the Joint Statement by Multilateral Finance Institutions.


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1. STANDARDS: Set, communicate and uphold clear PSEAH standards.

  1. Adopt and implement a PSEAH policy/strategy which aligns to these common principles and actions.
  2. Ensure PSEAH principles and standards of behaviour are embedded in codes of conduct. Create a code of conduct if required.
  3. Ensure all personnel, volunteers and delivery partners are aware of the PSEAH policy/strategy and code of conduct. This can be done through: mandatory induction and regular refresher training; including text in contracts, job descriptions and cooperative agreements; assessing partner capacity to meet expectations on PSEAH; and discussion of compliance in performance reviews and evaluations.

This means:

All individuals should:

  • Act with integrity at all times, and ensure they are aware of, understand and adhere to the PSEAH principles, their organisational code of conduct and all applicable PSEAH policies.
  • Take responsibility to create and maintain an environment and culture which has zero tolerance to inaction on SEAH, including through training and discussions to raise awareness of wider contextual factors like power imbalances, unconscious bias etc.
  • Undertake required and other relevant PSEAH training, so that they are confident that they are able to identify SEAH and know how to report cases or what to do if they are told about a concern.
  • Be mindful of the local laws of the country where they are working and how they relate to the PSEAH principles, organisational code of conduct and international human rights law. Aim to follow the highest standard.
  • Managers and leaders have particular responsibility to promote the code of conduct and policies and to promote a culture and systems which supports their implementation and emphasises zero tolerance to inaction.

Internationally: International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

  • Embed the PSEAH principles into their PSEAH strategies, policies and approaches, and, over time, align detailed activities to safeguard against SEAH to the key actions in this Approach.
  • Engage in international dialogue and collaboration to ensure that when specific PSEAH strategies, policies, guidance and tools relating to HDP work are refreshed and updated, they draw from the best of international practice and align to and strengthen this Common Approach.
  • Contribute to, support and where relevant use the services of independent audit and assessment functions to assess their progress in meeting PSEAH standards.

In Peacekeeping, the UN and governments should:

  • Maintain robust standards of conduct for all peacekeeping personnel and ensure these are reflected in Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with troop-contributing countries. Troop/police-contributing countries should make these standards binding for their personnel. Troops/personnel which fail to meet these standards should not be selected for future deployments.
  • Cooperate to apply robust standards of conduct to non-United Nations international forces.
  • Strengthen the screening, selection and preparation of troop/police-contributing countries;
    • Access and use resources on the UN Peacekeeping Resource Hub, including the ‘No Excuses’ and ‘Ten Rules’ standards of conduct, and specialised training for peacekeeping and military personnel prior to deployment.
  • Strengthen response and accountability measures including prompt and transparent investigations and ensure criminal accountability where SEA amounts to a crime.

Nationally: in a country context, national governments, parliaments, and local leaders should:

  • Help develop and enforce laws and policies which prevent and respond to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. These should:
    • Include standards of conduct for their own staff whether working in their own country or overseas.
    • Help ensure that SEAH is dealt with promptly and effectively when it does occur.
    • Seek to provide protection to whistle-blowers and people who report e.g. transferring relevant individuals to different locations if felt necessary.
    • Ensure that perpetrators of SEAH are held accountable in a proportionate manner, that protects the safety, dignity and well-being of victim-survivors and provides justice and redress for them.
    • Enable their citizens to be prosecuted for any crimes of SEAH, including those committed abroad when illegal in the country where they took place.
    • Be consistent with international legal conventions (for example the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and practice.
    • Learn from and align to emerging standards in areas such as efforts to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse and harassment online.
  • Promote and implement laws and policies which tackle wider issues such as gender inequality.

Organisations (including government agencies (e.g. donors/aid agencies), multilaterals, NGOs, private sector, foundations) should:

  • Have a clear code of conduct which embeds the PSEAH principles and ensure everyone working for, or on behalf of, the organisation is aware of the code of conduct and consequences of not adhering to it. For example: mandatory induction and regular refresher training; including text in contracts, job descriptions and cooperative agreements and requiring people to confirm they have understood it before beginning work; assessing partner capacity to meet expectations on PSEAH; and discussion of compliance in performance reviews and evaluations.
  • Ensure that codes of conduct, safeguarding policies and strategies are accessible to all; for example by making them available in child- or disability-accessible formats and using terms that are appropriate, not derogatory and avoid stereotypes.
  • Have in place clear policies to prevent, report and respond to SEAH within the organisation and across its operations/programmes. Policies should:
    • Protect staff, local communities and others who come into contact with HDP operations from SEAH and from retaliation (e.g. include a whistle-blower protection policy).
    • Be underpinned by technical guidance and training to support staff to implement them.
    • Include a resourced workplan to strengthen the organisation’s approach to PSEAH and ensure this is effectively implemented and overseen by senior management.
    • Align with this Common Approach and any underpinning existing guidance or minimum operating standards relevant to your sector or organisation (e.g. IASC , CHS, DAC)
  • Provide initial and regular refresher training for all individuals working on behalf of the organisation on PSEAH policies, code of conduct and guidance. Training should be aligned with gender equality and human rights and tailored to local contexts where appropriate using local languages.
  • Take steps to ensure PSEAH policies, guidance and training are rolled out across the entire organisation - in Headquarters and regional, country and field offices – and that all personnel deployed overseas and those who conduct field visits undertake training on PSEAH, and that local teams have staff with skills and knowledge of PSEAH.
  • Comply with local laws to prevent and respond to SEAH, and where there are inconsistencies between those and international PSEAH standards and/or human rights laws decide how best to manage the risk produced by those inconsistencies.
  • When delivering HDP interventions in country, consider how to support and also learn from host government efforts to strengthen laws and policies to prevent and respond to SEAH.
  • Where relevant, encourage host governments to adopt and/or amend and/or enforce their laws in line with relevant global conventions and standards.

Project or programme leaders should:

  • Ensure all staff have received training on PSEAH which includes making them aware of their power and associated SEAH risks, as well as how to report in their location.
  • Ensure expectations around standards of conduct and reporting of SEAH are made clear to implementing partners. Ensure these are set out clearly and consistently in all funding agreements and reporting requirements, including for sub-contractors.
    • link to sample language (donor aligned language when online)
  • Assess implementing partners’ capability to meet PSEAH standards and identify and manage SEAH risk.
  • If implementing partners require capability building to meet required standards, train partners or direct them to suitable materials or provide additional resources.


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2. LEADERSHIP: Leaders should set the tone and embed an accountable organisational culture of zero tolerance for inaction on SEAH.

  1. Leaders must show clear commitment to PSEAH by regularly highlighting the importance of PSEAH to staff and peers and fostering an inclusive and respectful working culture and environment where personnel and communities feel able to raise concerns.
  2. Leaders should ensure PSEAH policies and approaches are supported by the human, technical and financial resources needed to implement them - within core business and for specific pieces of work (projects etc) - and monitor their implementation and impact.
  3. Leaders should identify, train and support PSEAH champions or focal points who can help coordinate and implement PSEAH policies and approaches, and who report on progress to them and other internal and external stakeholders.
  4. Include specific responsibilities on PSEAH in relevant job descriptions and performance appraisals, including those of senior managers.

This means:

All individuals should:

  • Demonstrate personal commitment and zero tolerance to SEAH by behaving in a respectful way in line with the PSEAH principles.
  • Help create and maintain an environment which prevents, reports and responds to SEAH.
  • Ensure that PSEAH measures are prioritised and implemented within their area of responsibility.
  • Leaders have particular responsibility to demonstrate zero tolerance to inaction on SEAH, regularly highlighting the importance of PSEAH to staff and peers and fostering an environment where personnel and communities feel able to discuss the issue and raise concerns.

Internationally: International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, INGOs, foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

Nationally: in a country context, governments, parliaments, local leaders, civil society and heads of all organisations should:

  • Work in cooperation with other leaders to send a consistent message that SEAH is prohibited and there is zero tolerance to inaction on SEAH.
  • Collaborate to assess risk, design and implement effective PSEAH strategies, share good practice and learning, share information sensitively and safely.
  • Make sure that new crises quickly have staff focusing on PSEAH.
  • Prioritise resourcing of PSEAH in the locations where HDP sector workers have direct contact with local communities.

Donors and Multilateral Financial Institutions only:

  • Where possible, provide finance to help governments to address and prevent SEAH, and support Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Child Protection services to assist the response.
    • e.g. Multilateral Financial Institutions could provide financial support to Governments as part of their lending activities to improve their PSEAH approaches.

Organisations: leaders in donor agencies, multilaterals, NGOs, private sector organisations and foundations working in HDP sectors should:

  • Prioritise financial, technical and human resources to tackle SEAH proportionate to the size of the organisation and SEAH risks it faces.
    • senior leadership in field operations should, where appropriate, develop a resourced annual plan of action to prevent SEAH and monitor progress and risks.
  • Regularly highlight the importance of PSEAH to staff and peers and incentivise managers and staff to champion the PSEAH principles and implement PSEAH approaches.
  • Hold themselves and senior managers accountable for implementing PSEAH approaches and building an internal and external working environment in which SEAH is not tolerated:
    • e.g. one or more senior leaders should act as a PSEAH champion. Boards, or senior managers should discuss their institution’s PSEAH approaches, policies, risk exposure and case numbers and their handling at least once a year to ensure effective oversight and that complaints and potential instances of SEAH are taken seriously and acted upon.
  • Ensure that specific responsibilities on PSEAH are included in relevant job descriptions and performance appraisals, including those of senior managers.
  • Establish and fill one or more key positions at headquarters, business units or overseas offices as appropriate, to act as focal points on PSEAH and to lead, coordinate and champion work on PSEAH. Consider one or more points of contact specifically for victim-survivors.
  • Provide regular messaging to staff and partners to underscore the importance of PSEAH and its importance to leadership. Foster honest, transparent dialogue and learning on SEAH, including through regular strategy, policy and program reviews and/or after-action reflections on practice and policy.
  • Create an organisational culture that commits to understanding issues of power and privilege that enable abuses of power, such as sexual harassment, within the organisation, and where staff have the opportunity to discuss and challenge power imbalances, attitudes, behaviours and practice that underpin SEAH and raise concerns.
  • Foster, inclusive, non-discriminatory and gender-balanced work environments and opportunities, including through policies and practices that address issues of diversity, including gender diversity, and through the recruitment and career development of women in senior leadership positions.

UN only:

  • Senior officials for peace operations, field support and political affairs should develop a programme of unannounced visits to field missions to check PSEAH progress.

Project or programme leaders should:

  • Be accountable for ensuring that SEAH risk is considered and tracked at every stage including design, contracting, delivery, monitoring and closure.
  • Ensure all individuals and organisations involved in delivery have access to information/training to understand SEAH, are aware of their PSEAH responsibilities and contribute to an inclusive working environment where everyone involved in the project feels able to raise concerns.
  • Aim for diversity in project management and delivery roles, including with more women in decision-making roles, to make it harder for SEAH to happen or go unchecked.
  • Ensure PSEAH is adequately budgeted for in the project/programme, building in additional costs for PSEAH measures into the budget if existing or planned resources seem insufficient to manage the likely risk. Consider contingency funding for when incidents occur.
  • Ensure resources for PSEAH activities are cascaded to all implementing partners involved in programme delivery.
  • Include financing and/or advocate for proactively strengthening existing local services in your programme locations, for example gender-based violence and child protection service providers, which you can draw on if/when SEAH cases occur.


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3. COMMUNICATION: Consult, inform, and coordinate with affected communities and partners.

  1. Collaborate with, listen to, and use the knowledge of local people whose situation makes them most vulnerable to SEAH, and victim-survivors where possible, when designing PSEAH approaches, projects/programmes and reporting mechanisms.
  2. Communicate PSEAH information and engage with civil society, including women’s and human rights groups and national human rights institutions, to empower local communities, affected people and others who come into contact with HDP programmes and operations to know what standards of behaviour they can expect, how to report, what happens if they report, their rights and what support is available to them. Do so in a way which takes account of local context, cultures, and is accessible to all.
  3. Participate in PSEAH networks and coordination efforts and collaborate with peers and partners to make PSEAH approaches effective, building where possible on existing structures to be accountable to affected populations and prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

This means:

All individuals should:

  • Raise awareness of PSEAH principles and their code of conduct in their collaboration and coordination with colleagues, implementing partners, people and communities, and help ensure they are being adhered to in their area of responsibility.
  • Engage with and support (or as a minimum be aware of) local PSEAH focal points, champions or networks in their efforts to lead, coordinate and champion work on PSEAH.
  • Listen to and be responsive to feedback and concerns.

Internationally: International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, INGOs, foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

  • Clearly and consistently communicate zero tolerance to inaction on SEAH.
  • Support and engage with inter-agency work across the HDP sector to strengthen aspects of PSEAH which would benefit from more consistency e.g. victim-survivor centred approaches.
  • Support dialogue, collaboration and participation in PSEAH coordination and working groups to strengthen and align their approaches as far as possible, sharing practice and learning with peer organisations.
  • Support and engage with efforts to move towards a more coherent, effective and sustainable funding model to support and promote PSEAH coordination efforts and tools, globally and amongst those working with communities e.g.

Nationally: in a country context, governments and organisations should:

  • Undertake country-level SEAH assessments and create SEAH country/action plans (or include actions on PSEAH in country strategies or plans) that promote collaboration, consistent messaging and efficiency, including in response to emergencies.
  • Support and engage with PSEA Networks in country, to safely and sensitively share appropriate information on PSEAH (e.g. on approaches, risk assessments, reporting mechanisms, training) with their implementing partners and other relevant organisations to help improve work on PSEAH.
  • Support, build on and strengthen structures to be accountable to affected populations, prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and empower local communities, affected people and others who come into contact with HDP programmes and operations.
  • Work together to identify, reinforce and improve existing complaints channels, and ensure that robust inter-agency community-based complaints mechanisms (CBCMs) are in place, to ensure swift referral of complaints to the proper organisation and swift referral of victim-survivors through existing referral pathways.
  • Engage with National Human Rights Institutions, women’s and human rights groups on PSEAH approaches when reviewing relevant laws and policies.
  • Governments who provide troops and police for peacekeeping operations should work with other HDP actors in country to proactively prevent and respond to SEAH.

UN only:

  • UN missions should also appoint and fund a PSEA coordinator/ focal point who can support senior local leadership in developing and implementing an in-country PSEA strategy and establish an inter-actor PSEA Network. Host governments, donors and other organisations should support this work and look to join and participate in inter-actor PSEA networks or other national networks which focus on PSEAH.

Organisations: donors, multilaterals, NGOs, private sector, foundations should:

  • Meet and hear from victim-survivors directly (where this can be done sensitively and with specially trained personnel), their representatives and/or local women’s organisations, and consult them on organisational approaches to PSEAH and reporting mechanisms.
    • The Murad Code provides guidance around engaging with victim-survivors of conflict related sexual violence with principles relevant to PSEAH engagement.
  • Communicate information on PSEAH to local communities, affected people and others who come into contact with the organisation’s programmes and operations so that they know what standards of behaviour they can expect, how to report, what happens if they report, their rights and what support is available to them. Do so in a way which takes account of local context and cultures.
  • Participate in, or as a minimum be aware of, existing coordination mechanisms, (for example, PSEA Networks, GBV and Child Protection sub-clusters or sub-sectors, global or regional bodies, IASC, SEA working group, NGO fora, etc) and work with peers and partners to find ways to share appropriate PSEAH information, resources and tools to make PSEAH approaches more effective.
  • Coordinate with peers to streamline asks of delivery partners where possible, e.g. to align expectations and develop shared messaging to improve coordination and coherence in supporting partners to prevent and report on SEAH, and consult with affected people and communities in a more coordinated way.
  • Collaborate closely with GBV and Child Protection sectors/clusters to ensure swift referral of survivors through existing referral pathways.

UN only:

  • Where SEA occurs relating to UN staff or related personnel, utilise the Victims’ Rights Officers as a main contact point for victims and ensure victim-centred, gender- and child-sensitive and non-discriminatory approaches are integrated into the United Nations’ support of victims.

Project or programme staff should:

  • Ensure expectations on PSEAH are made clear to delivery partners, included in contracts and funding agreements, and monitored as part of performance delivery.
  • Ensure governance and coordination mechanisms exist involving all partners in the project delivery chain and that SEAH risk management and response is built into those mechanisms.
  • Provide information about expected staff behaviours in relation to PSEAH and organisational PSEAH commitments to communities, affected people and others who come into contact with the project or programme, so that they understand their rights and entitlements.
    • Ensure communications are accessible to all, e.g. engaging marginalised groups, and making adjustments for disability such as booking sign language, interpreters or speech to-text interpreters to join a community event; booking, conference rooms with a hearing loop; and printing materials in regular, large print and braille.
    • Where organisations work with children, including children with disabilities, it is important that both children and parents/guardians understand their rights and how complaints can be made.
  • Safely consult with people and communities the project will support at design phase to understand local contexts and strengthen effective reporting, detection and accountability mechanisms throughout the delivery including around feedback and complaints mechanisms.
  • Find out who else is delivering programmes in the same area and what mapping of SEAH risks and response services exists.
  • When safe to do so, share with other relevant stakeholder information about SEAH risks identified or lessons learned during delivery.


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4. PREVENTION: Assess risk and take action to prevent SEAH across all activities

  1. Embed PSEAH measures (SEAH risk assessment, management, reporting and detection measures) into the design and running of missions, offices, projects and other activities.
  2. Assess SEAH risks based on an understanding of the local context and the specific vulnerabilities and needs of affected groups. Use participatory methods so victim-survivors, affected communities and others who come into contact with programmes and affected communities have a voice in surfacing the SEAH risks they face and designing prevention and risk mitigation strategies.
  3. Understand and support wider efforts to tackle gender equality and other power imbalances which enable SEAH to happen in a specific context.
  4. Use relevant vetting schemes and recruitment processes to prevent the hiring of perpetrators of SEAH.

This means:

All individuals should:

  • Assess and understand SEAH risk in their area of responsibility and help ensure appropriate mitigations are in place.
  • Provide timely and accurate information about their identity, work history and previous conduct at work during recruitment and vetting processes.
  • Managers and supervisors ensure all new employees or delivery partners in their area of work receive a copy of the PSEAH principles and code of conduct, attend mandatory training, are taking SEAH risk seriously and know how to escalate risks and raise concerns.

Internationally: International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, INGOs, foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

  • Use international initiatives for risk assessments and collaborate on risk and due diligence assessments where possible.


  • The UN and donors can use the SEA Risk Overview Index to understand SEA risk, prioritise issues and countries of concern and make the most strategic use of resources.
  • Multilateral institutions and donor Governments can support the joint assessment of the performance of certain multilateral institutions in regard to PSEAH standards by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN). Donor organisations can use these assessments and engage with MOPAN periodically to review and further strengthen their approach.
  • NGOs can work towards becoming aligned with the Core Humanitarian Standards PSEAH Index and seek independent verification of this, for example by the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative (HQAI). Donors can support HQAI and draw on these assessments in their own due diligence assessments to improve efficiencies for themselves and partners.
  • Prioritise resources for preventing SEAH, proportionate to risk assessed, given that measures to prevent SEAH are very likely to be more efficient and better value for money than the cost of responding to incidents.
  • Prevent the inadvertent hiring of perpetrators of SEAH by using schemes such as Clear Check, the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, Project Soteria, Disclosure and Barring Service to help generate and share with other relevant organisations information about employees who commit SEAH.
  • The UN, in collaboration with Member States, is proactive in vetting all personnel who are to serve in a UN peace operation, to ensure that they do not have a prior history of misconduct, including SEAH. Troop and police contributing countries are required to certify that individuals being deployed have not been committed, or been alleged to have committed, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from a UN operation – they are obliged to provide a full list of troops to the UN Conduct and Discipline Service for screening.

Nationally: in a country context, governments and organisations should:

  • Understand the local context, the factors affecting risk of SEAH in a certain country, region, location or sector and the specific vulnerabilities and needs of different groups and create appropriate tailored responses.
  • Encourage risk management by conducting regular risk assessments, in consultation with key stakeholders, develop and resource a risk mitigation plan, and monitor implementation of the mitigation plan.
  • Where possible, finance or support projects to increase gender equality and tackle power imbalances between different genders and other groups of people which make it easier for SEAH to occur.
  • Use national systems of background checks to vet current and potential employees and volunteers for known past SEAH, while also making use of international tools.
  • Increase the number of women with the requisite skills and expertise in key roles, e.g. senior leaders and peacekeeping personnel.
  • Countries that contribute peacekeeping troops and/or police should:
    • Provide mandatory training for all personnel, uniformed and civilian, on PSEAH before deployment (the UN Peacekeeping Resource Hub has training materials).
    • Require personnel at UN field bases to carry the “no excuses” card which restates rules and how to report allegations of SEA.
    • Look to deploy commanders, including women, with experience of peacekeeping and to send established units to peacekeeping operations as they are usually managed and disciplined better.
    • Specifically task civilian managers and military commanders with developing and/or implementing PSEAH policies and assess their performance with this.
    • Reward those who do so and remove those that fail to from managerial and command functions.
    • Pay particular attention to the oversight of company and smaller single-nation units deployed in remote mission areas.
    • Ease the living conditions for troops, such as by providing recreational facilities and facilitating contact with family and friends by providing free internet services, regular Rest and Relaxation etc.

Organisations (donors, multilaterals, NGOs, private sector) should:

  • Put in place designated PSEAH focal points or champions who complete enhanced professional training and can provide guidance on SEAH prevention measures and risk management. PSEAH remains everyone’s responsibility. Focal points provide support.
  • Include expectations on conduct and requirements around PSEAH in relevant job adverts and include screening questions in interviews relating to PSEAH for relevant positions, for example where staff will work with children or on programmes with high SEAH risks.
  • Require references and undertake vetting, such as through criminal records checks, during recruitment processes to prevent the inadvertent hiring or re-hiring of perpetrators. Include screening measures relating to child marriage.
  • Use probationary periods for new staff to help identify risks that may not have surfaced during the recruitment process and monitor behaviour once in position through performance appraisal processes. Value whistle-blowers as part of these processes.
  • Highlight SEAH as a specific risk category in organisational risk management tools.

Project or programme staff should:

  • Ensure SEAH risks and the SEAH vulnerabilities and needs of different groups are considered at every stage including design, contracting, delivery, monitoring and closure and assessing how project staff in different roles could engage in SEAH. Risk assessments should be led, or as a minimum involve, local staff who are likely to know most about the context.
  • Consider SEAH as a specific risk category and ensure SEAH risks are regularly reviewed, discussed, responded to and escalated when required. If you use risk appetite tools, set an appetite for safeguarding against SEAH and review it on a regular basis.
    • When relevant and feasible, use participatory approaches which centre affected communities as experts in their own risk mitigation, and give them a role in designing contextually-relevant PSEAH strategies. See the Empowered Aid project’s tools and resources for a guide on the use of participatory approaches to PSEAH.
  • Identify people at higher risk of SEAH and what specific prevention measures are required. Adequately plan and budget for these prevention measures and monitor those risks during implementation. Draw on the expertise of local communities.
  • Assess the vulnerabilities and needs of groups including women, men, children and adolescents, those in hard-to-reach locations, and at risk groups such as persons with disabilities, older people, children and young people, socially isolated individuals, female-headed households, ethnic or linguistic minorities and stigmatised groups (e.g. socially excluded groups, people living with HIV, and LGBTQI+ people). Participants of projects with largely remote oversight can also be at higher risk.
  • Draw on available evidence and tools related to SEAH prevention and response in the thematic and/or geographic areas relevant to the work.
  • Identify and act upon any potential or real unintended SEAH-related impacts which programmes cause including relating to safety, security, dignity and rights, and livelihoods.
  • Create strong partnerships to address PSEAH. This includes carrying out SEAH-related due diligence on all delivery partner organisations which reflect recognised safeguarding standards and ensure SEAH detection and monitoring is built into field visits and monitoring activities.
  • Be realistic about the operating environment and constraints that individuals and communities may face and take a proportionate PSEAH approach based on the level of SEAH risk. Track progress in applying safeguarding measures and adjust approach if needed.


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5. RESPONSE: Encourage reporting, and be accountable when cases occur

  1. Establish, promote and test safe and accessible mechanisms for receiving complaints and detecting concerns relating to personnel and operations. Encourage their use. Seek feedback and other evidence to test if mechanisms are trusted and used.
  2. Develop and implement guidance so that personnel know how to identify SEAH, and what to do if they receive a report or become aware of cases.
  3. Respond to and investigate cases in a timely, fair, confidential, safe and trauma-informed manner which is centred on the dignity, needs and rights of victims-survivors.
  4. Take timely and appropriate disciplinary action if SEAH occurs or if there is retaliation against those who report concerns or participate in investigations.
  5. When cases may meet the definition of a crime, refer to the appropriate jurisdiction or law enforcement agency with the consent of victims-survivors (or, when children, their parents/carers/guardians/ trusted person) and when safe to do so.

This means:


  • Should ensure they can identify SEAH and know how to report it or refer cases that are reported to them, taking account of the needs of the victim-survivor.
  • Should act promptly to report suspicions and reports of SEAH. Concerns or suspicions regarding another worker, whether in the same organisation or not, must be reported.
  • Must respect and protect the confidentiality, dignity and rights of all those involved in an allegation. This includes victim-survivors, complainants, witnesses, and whistle-blowers. They should never retaliate against those who raise concerns.
  • Leaders and managers should encourage reporting and communicate to staff that they will take any SEAH complaint or concerns seriously and follow up appropriately and according to their organisation’s procedures. They should make clear that retaliation against anyone who raises a concern will not be tolerated.
  • Victims-survivors should be able to expect:
    • Effective, inclusive, accessible and safe complaints/reporting mechanisms to be in place.
    • Their rights to be upheld when they make a complaint, e.g. to have their complaint handled confidentially with their consent, to receive information on the process of investigation, protection from retaliation, and be offered support and advice (e.g. medical, psychological, basic financial and legal support).
    • The UN has issued a statement on the rights of victim-survivors of SEA committed by UN staff or related personnel

Internationally:  International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, INGOs, foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

In addition to the above, peacekeeping troop/police-contributing countries and the UN should:

  • Abide by the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 2272 which focuses on the responsibility of troop/police-contributing countries to investigate allegations of SEA and hold their personnel accountable.
  • Ensure that all peacekeeping personnel adhere to the highest standards of behaviour and conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner at all times.
  • Provide the legal framework applicable to its contingent and/or officers when deployed to a UN Mission to improve transparency and accountability in the handling of cases of misconduct.

Nationally: in a country context, national governments/states, parliaments, local leaders and heads of all organisations should:

  • Use, or where needed develop or help develop, reporting mechanisms based on specific local and cultural contexts, while upholding international human rights standards. Mechanisms should be clear, simple, victim-survivor centred and available to all community members. Use participatory methods so victim-survivors and affected communities have a voice in designing reporting mechanisms and can give feedback on their effectiveness.
    • It is important to ensure that these mechanisms are accessible and disability-inclusive by consulting people with disabilities or their representatives.
    • Children may require specialised reporting mechanisms.
  • Integrate a victim/survivor-centred and rights-based approach into efforts by governments and organisations to strengthen responses to gender-based violence and SEAH at the country level, including strengthening the rule of law and access to justice.
  • Understand the national legislation where you are working and the possible implications for reporting SEAH cases to national or international law enforcement.

Governments/states only:

  • Seek to ensure all victims-survivors of SEAH receive appropriate support, including medical, psychosocial, basic financial and legal support (e.g. through legislation that requires such support to be provided).
    • Protect victims-survivors, whistle-blowers and reporting persons, including journalists and any witnesses, against retaliation.
    • Have legal frameworks in place which enable perpetrators of SEAH to be held accountable, including through criminal prosecutions that take place in a timely, fair, confidential, safe, trauma-informed and victim-survivor centred manner. The provision of support services and respect for human rights should be central throughout the process.
    • Log criminal activity in a confidential register of national sex offenders maintained by law enforcement agencies which can be used by the HDP sectors and other sectors (e.g. education sector) to screen staff who will work with vulnerable people.
    • Project Soteria, managed by Interpol, can help support governments in strengthening national systems for PSEAH.

UN only:

  • UN missions in high-risk contexts for PSEAH should identify and fund a position, at the P-5 level or above, to assume the functions of the victims’ rights advocate.

Organisations: Donors, multilaterals, NGOs, private sector should:


  • Develop clear guidelines for staff and implementing partners on when and how to report SEAH, what to do if they receive a report or become aware of cases, and on how the organisation will investigate and respond to allegations.
  • Have a documented complaints handling and investigations process which sets out mandatory reporting obligations; commits to keeping all parties involved updated on likely timeframes for concluding an investigation; and has an appeals process open to all involved.

Reporting/Complaints mechanisms

  • Establish and maintain one or more mechanisms for receiving allegations of SEAH connected to your organisation’s staff or operations (e.g. an email address, online reporting form, telephone number). Make these independent or have a degree of independence from the organisation and management where possible. Ensure they can receive anonymous reports and are accessible to all.
  • Be proactive to seek feedback on staff and partner behaviour to ensure the burden for reporting does not fall only on victims-survivors. For example:
    • Be clear that your organisation welcomes feedback or comments made by affected people, communities or stakeholders, and follow up on feedback received.
    • Proactively seek feedback on staff or partner performance and behaviour directly from stakeholders as part of performance appraisal processes.
  • Consider establishing or joining collaborative inter-agency or community-based reporting mechanisms for operations as appropriate, e.g. grievance response mechanisms or inter-agency community-based mechanisms. Consult communities on these. Ensure mechanisms can receive anonymous reports and are accessible to all.
  • Develop a data tracking system and protocol for sharing/escalating information on cases with senior management and relevant stakeholders.

Protect those who report, including victim-survivors

  • Protect all victim-survivors of SEAH, and their families and communities who have been harmed by the organisation’s personnel or in connection with its programmes/projects. Seek to provide appropriate support (including medical, psychosocial, basic financial and legal support), and use (or if needed develop) guidance and minimum standards to guide that provision.
  • Take a victim/survivor-centred and rights-based approach which is trauma-informed, where their experiences, rights, and needs are at the centre of reporting and investigations. Ground these in respect for human rights, respect, confidentiality, safety and non-discrimination. Provide clear guidance for how the organisation will put this into practice across reporting, response services, and investigations. Useful resources include:
  • In cases involving children, place the interest of the child at the forefront in all activities, including investigation, assistance, and support, under supervision of trained experts and liaising with appropriate authorities in conjunction with an appropriate adult or guardian, preferably of the child’s choosing and with consideration of their freely expressed views. Refer cases to the appropriate law enforcement agency with the consent of this adult or guardian where the victim-survivor is a child.
  • Ensure continual safety planning throughout the period of the investigation and ensure that any actions taken in response to allegations do not stigmatise or risk further harm to victim-survivors.
  • Provide support for independent legal assistance to victim-survivors from the outset of cases.
    • Make clear to victim-survivors, and whistle-blowers that they can report SEAH to law enforcement agencies if they wish.


  • Investigate allegations in a timely, fair, confidential, safe and trauma-informed manner following a victim/survivor-centred and rights-based approach. Only proceed with investigations without a victim-survivor’s consent when not doing so poses an unacceptable risk to others.
    • Take steps to protect parties affected by the investigation and the investigation process following a risk assessment.
  • Refer cases that do not fall within the scope of the organisation to other relevant organisations promptly.
  • Use international training courses to strengthen skills in investigations where appropriate.
    • The Investigation Training Qualification Scheme is a training course, developed by the CHS Alliance, available for use by organisations wherever they are based globally. It builds professional skills in SEAH investigations and establishes a professional standard and career progression for investigators.
  • Provide, with the informed consent of the victim-survivor where they are adults, information on SEAH allegations to the appropriate law enforcement agency where there is evidence suggesting a criminal offence has taken place and there are no significant risks of doing so. UN entities should consult the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) before doing this.
  • Be mindful of statutes of limitations (time limits for filing criminal complaints).
  • Have an information sharing policy which provides guidance on PSEAH information and ensure systems are in place to protect personal information relating to investigations.
  • Enforce penalties (up to and including dismissal) where staff have committed SEAH or undertaken any form of retaliation against victim-survivors, whistle-blowers or others who have participated in investigations.

UN only:

In Peacekeeping operations,

In line with UN Security Council resolution 2272:

  • Units and entire contingents will be repatriated where there is evidence of widespread or systemic SEA or inaction in response to allegations.
  • Take into account whether a Member State has taken the appropriate steps to investigate, hold accountable and update the UN Secretary General of the progress of its investigations when determining whether that Member State should participate in other current or future United Nations peacekeeping operations.
  • All troop-contributing countries should take the steps necessary to conduct investigations of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by their personnel, deploy national investigation officers in their contingents to support these efforts and conclude such investigations as quickly as possible, and hold accountable those personnel found to have committed SEA and to report to the United Nations fully and promptly on actions undertaken.
  • Troop contributing countries should participate in all cases concerning its troops through an expert in military law, ideally military prosecution, who will gather evidence for subsequent court martials or national legal proceedings in their country as applicable.
  • The UN Secretary General’s office should commend contingent commanders who cooperate with UN investigations into allegations against members of their contingents, by sending a letter to their Head of State or Government.
  • UN staff should notify the Executive Officer of the UNSG when Member State personnel (e.g., contingent commanders) do not collaborate with investigations. Contingent commanders who do not cooperate with investigations should be punished and repatriated. The UN should also recover from the troop contributing country all payments related to that commander and pay them into the trust fund for victims.
  • Staff members, civilian police or military observers who are found to have committed acts of SEA should be dismissed. Fine them and pay the proceeds into the trust fund for victims. In addition, the UN should recover all payments made to the troop contributing country relating to this staff member.
  • Troop-contributing countries should enable the live streaming of and victim access to court martial proceedings that must be conducted on national territory.

Project or programme leaders should:

  • Ensure that safe and accessible mechanisms are available to all coming into contact with the programme to report SEAH cases or concerns.
  • Report allegations of SEAH by individuals that occur during project delivery through appropriate channels.
  • Make it clear to all partners involved in the delivery chain (including all staff, volunteers and contractors) that they are also expected to report SEAH cases and concerns.
  • Ensure there is information available on how to provide quality support services to victim-survivors if staff involved in your activities do commit SEAH, including handling and investigation of the cases. This could include mapping services which could support victim-survivors and managing the risks to victim-survivors of any gaps in the provision of such services.
  • Actively consider how your work could engage with existing coordination mechanisms to improve and strengthen local services, for example gender-based violence and child protection service providers which you might need to draw on to provide support to victim-survivors if SEAH cases occur. Include financing for this as part of programme spend.
  • Ensure all staff who are likely to come into contact with affected communities are trained on how to respond if an individual discloses an allegation.
  • Remember that many cases are likely to go un-reported, so no or low case numbers are not necessarily an indicator of no SEAH.


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6. MONITORING: Use data to track progress, learn and improve

  1. Learn from experience, including where things have gone wrong.
  2. Share learning and practice on PSEAH to strengthen and align approaches.
  3. Collect and use data (for example, on SEAH case numbers and outcomes, feedback, surveys) to monitor and evaluate the impact of PSEAH approaches.
  4. Publish and share data on SEAH in a way that protects confidentiality, to help build the global evidence base on PSEAH and to show transparency and accountability.

This means:

All individuals should:

  • Consider whether PSEAH approaches in their areas of work are being implemented effectively, and feedback if there are areas for improvement.
  • Be willing to share their observations and experiences about the effectiveness of PSEAH linked to their work.
  • Senior leaders in all organisations should ensure that accountability and reporting on PSEAH are included in the terms of reference of the organisation’s Board or governance structures and should consider progress with implementing PSEAH policies at least once a quarter. Larger organisations should report to Boards on PSEAH at least annually. Regular leadership dialogue can facilitate learning through discussing trends and analysis of organisational progress.

Internationally: International leaders, such as Heads of Governments, donor agencies, multilateral agencies, INGOs, foundations and other leaders involved in implementing HDP work should:

Examples include:

Nationally: in a country context, national governments/states, parliaments, local leaders and heads of all organisations should:

  • Safely and sensitively share appropriate information, learning and effective practices with implementing partners and other relevant organisations working in the same countries which could help them improve their own work on PSEAH.
  • Monitor progress with implementing country action plans and make improvements where needed.
  • Relevant PSEA coordinators and PSEA networks should support the IASC PSEA global dashboard to contribute to knowledge and country level tracking of results.

Organisations: Donors, multilaterals, NGOs, private sector should:

  • Regularly assess progress with PSEAH strategies and action plans and take actions to manage risks and strengthen approaches. Encourage staff to provide feedback and ideas on how to improve PSEAH approaches.


  • At least annually boards, or senior managers should discuss their institutions’ PSEAH approaches, policies, risk exposure and case numbers and their handling to ensure effective oversight and that complaints and potential instances of SEAH are taken seriously and acted upon.
  • Monitor and oversee data from investigations to track quality of investigations and subsequent disciplinary procedures.


  • Develop a process for robust feedback about the investigation process: monitor the proportion of allegations that are proven; timelines to complete administrative action; and types of administrative/disciplinary action linked to types of allegations.
  • Regularly, and at least annually, publish aggregated information on SEAH cases and how they’ve been responded to, to strengthen transparency and accountability, for example in annual reports.
  • Promote and engage in knowledge sharing among institutions, sharing effective practices, seeking to align methodologies, and strengthening collaboration in operations.

UN only:

  • Senior leaders should issue management letters to their governing bodies annually, certifying that all allegations of SEA brought to the attention of their entity have been reported and appropriate action has been taken.

Project or programme leaders should:

  • Ensure project monitoring considers SEAH risks and allows feedback on SEAH concerns via a range of tools which could include interviews, surveys, focus groups and third-party independent monitoring.
  • Build SEAH-related indicators into programme monitoring documents such as logical frameworks or reviews.
  • Consider how data and learning from SEAH cases can be collected and shared in a safe way and so inform other activities and so reduce SEAH risk.
  • Avoid relying heavily on SEAH case numbers as an indicator of how PSEAH is being handled in a programme/project or by a partner – low/no reports of PSEAH can itself be a cause for concern, as it can indicate an environment where it is not safe to report concerns.
  • Act promptly and non-defensively when things go wrong (which they will), and consider using four key steps: identify, escalate, fix and learn.
  • Encourage learning from things that go wrong, which is just as important as learning from things that are done well.


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Further information and resources

United Nations commitments and resources

The UN’s overarching webpage on Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has lots of information and resources on how the UN is tackling SEA across its operations. In particular information on:

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee is the highest level humanitarian coordination forum within the UN and produces key standards and guidance on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian operations (which the rest of the UN system also follows) including:  

Standards and guidance for Peacekeeping Operations:

Information on how the UN tackles sexual harassment:

Support for victims-survivors

Commitments and guidance for International Financial Institutions (IFIs) 

Guidance for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), contractors and others

Information for donors

Vetting tools to prevent hiring/re-hiring of perpetrators

  • UN ClearCheck platform. This is a highly secure platform of an online database. It contains information on individuals who have committed SEAH to share with UN entities with the aim of preventing them from being reemployed within the UN.
  • Misconduct Disclosure Scheme. This facilitates the sharing of misconduct data between employers. It complements police checks by identifying perpetrators who have had disciplinary processes against them or are involved in investigations, but who may not have committed crimes.
  • Project Soteria. This project, managed by Interpol, helps prevent and detect cases of SEAH. Interpol’s global policing capabilities can be used by institutions through drawing on Interpol notices and databases.

Data and reporting tools

  • UN public reporting mechanism on SEA allegations. This initiative shares UN system wide data on SEA allegations to promote transparency and accountability.
  • CHS Harmonised framework for SEAH data collection and reporting. This is an international initiative for organisations to collect and report in a harmonised and systematic way, using the same sets of top line SEAH data to promote transparency and accountability, through better understanding of the issue through strong trend analysis. The pilot is focusing on NGOs and the private sector, but the UN and Member States are also involved and it could have wider applicability.
  • Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Risk Overview Index (SEARO). This is a resource to help identify high-risk contexts for SEA and support decision making, including relating to where to prioritise resources. It is a Composite Index that brings together indicators on a range of different factors that can influence the risk of SEA.


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A note on terms, definitions and abbreviations

Commonly used terms and definitions include:

Humanitarian, Development and Peacekeeping Work - Humanitarian work delivers support to people in emergency situations, e.g. arising from conflict or natural disasters. Development work seeks to improve the welfare of lower income countries. Peacekeeping work seeks to protect civilians and provide the political and peacebuilding support to help countries transition from conflict to peace.

HDP nexus is a term used to capture interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions, and attempts for these sectors to work together more effectively.

The Common Approach sets out key actions across five levels ranging from the global perspective down to the individual level: 

  • Individual – actions for all individuals involved in the delivery of aid or peacekeeping support.
  • International – actions relevant for the overarching international architecture that underpins and coordinates efforts to protect against SEAH in the HDP sectors. There are a variety of ways in which the UN system, other multilaterals, national governments, civil society, and the private sector come together to discuss and work together on PSEAH, as well as schemes and resources for them to use.  
  • National – PSEAH actions expected within countries. This includes expectations of national governments in their own countries, of troop-contributing countries, and countries that receive refugees. It also covers how governments and organisations should act in countries other than their own where HDP is delivered (e.g. donors/aid agencies). 
  • Organisation – actions to guide the wide range of organisations that may deliver or work in HDP settings, to improve consistency in approach by different types of organisations. Many actions are applicable to all organisations. But others may depend on factors such as the size of the organisation and the type activities being delivered. Actions specific to particular organisations are highlighted. Types of organisations include:  
    • government departments or aid agencies;  
    • multilaterals such as UN agencies, funds or programmes, multilateral financial institutions and development banks, and topic-specific (e.g. health) funds; 
    • international and national non-governmental organisations; 
    • other civil society/grassroots/community-based organisations; 
    • private sector organisations; and 
    • research organisations. 
  • Programme/Project – PSEAH actions that are needed to design and implement any programme, project or initiative in HDP settings. These actions will be applied proportionately depending on the scale and complexity of the programme and level of safeguarding risk involved.  

SEAH is the term used to refer to sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment. Although sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment can happen anywhere in society, when used as an umbrella term in the Common Approach the term refers to SEAH perpetrated by those working in, or with, development and humanitarian organisations or settings and within Peacekeeping Missions. Some organisations refer to sexual exploitation and abuse as behaviour which occurs between HDP personnel and local communities, and sexual harassment as behaviour which occurs between one aid worker and another; whilst others see sexual exploitation abuse and harassment as something that could occur between aid workers, and also between aid workers and local communities. By using the term SEAH we aim to refer to all actions to tackle all harmful and unwanted sexual behaviour.

The individual terms within SEAH are commonly defined as:

  • Sexual Exploitation– 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. 
  • Sexual Abuse– the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.​
  • Sexual Harassment– encompasses a continuum of unacceptable and unwelcome behaviours and practices of a sexual nature that may include, but are not limited to, sexual suggestions or demands, requests for sexual favours and sexual, verbal or physical conduct or gestures, that are or might reasonably be perceived as offensive or humiliating.

Sexual Misconduct is a catch-all term which includes sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and other forms of inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature. This document will use the term sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment (SEAH) rather than sexual misconduct, to be clear about the behaviour being referred to and its serious, sometimes criminal, nature.

Protection from Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (PSEAH) – efforts to prevent and respond appropriately to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.

Victim-Survivor – Refers to a person who has experienced harm as a result of SEAH. Some organisations and individuals prefer to refer to victims, to recognise the harm that has occurred to them, while others prefer to use the term survivor, in order to use a term with empowering connotations (although it must be remembered that unfortunately some victims do not survive). We will use both terms in parallel given their wide use across the humanitarian, development and peacekeeping sectors.

Victim-survivor centred approach: an approach in which the victim-survivor’s rights, safety and well-being remain a priority in all matters and procedures.

Complainant/reporting person or whistle-blower – an aid worker or other person who reports allegations of SEAH.


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DAC – Development Assistance Committee

GBV – Gender Based Violence

HQAI: Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative

IASC – Inter-Agency Standing Committee

IFI – International Financial Institution

INGO – International Non-Governmental Organisation

MFI – Multilateral Financial Institution

MoU – Memorandum of Understanding

NGO – Non-Governmental Organisation

PSEAH – Protection from Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment

SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals

SEA – Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

SEAH – Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment