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Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Help us prevent it
Help us prevent it

IOM has a policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA).

Sexual exploitation is defined by the Organization as 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 means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Examples include:

  • Sexual assault (any unwanted or forced sexual act committed without consent, including rape, sodomy, and forced oral copulation)
  • Forcing a person to engage in position or pornography
  • Unwanted touching of a sexual nature
  • Refusing to use safe sex practices
  • Making sex a condition for assistance

The IOM Standards of Conduct (IN/15/Rev.1) (HYPERLINK) instruct that all people employed by IOM provide humanitarian assistance and services in a manner that respects and fosters the rights of beneficiaries. The Standards of Conduct state that there is often an inherent and important power differential in the interactions between staff members and beneficiaries and declare that abusive and exploitative sexual activities with beneficiaries are absolutely prohibited. For more on IOM’s SEA policies and procedures, see IN/234 (hyperlink).

SEA occurs when people who have power exploit or abuse vulnerable populations for sexual purposes.

There are six core principles related to sexual exploitation and abuse:

  1. SEA is gross misconduct and is grounds for termination/dismissal.
  2. Sexual activity with a child/minor is forbidden, regardless of local ages consent. IOM staff are held to international standards, which define a child as anyone under the age of 18 (according to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child). Mistaken belief regarding the age of a child is not a defence.
  3. Exchange of money, employment, goods assistance or services for sex is prohibited. These means that using the services of prostitutes or sex workers is not allowed, regardless of local prostitution laws or laws in a staff members’ home country. This prohibition extends to the use of prostitution outside of working hours, including while on vacation.
  1. Sexual relationships between IOM staff and beneficiaries are strongly discouraged
  2. IOM staff members have a duty to report SEA allegations, concerns, suspicious or retaliations by anyone working with IOM, as well as IOM contractors, their employees and other personnel (including anyone working on IOM projects, or employed by or working for other organizations).
  3. IOM staff must act in good faith to create and maintain safe spaces that protect against SEA.

What counts as SEA? Here are a few SEA cases at IOM that resulted in disciplinary measures.

  • Staff member had a sexual relationship with a minor IOM beneficiary
  • Staff member inappropriately touched and threatened two beneficiaries
  • Staff member failed to cooperate with an SEA investigation withheld information from OIG investigators
  • Staff member offered beneficiaries money in exchange for sex
  • Staff member touched a beneficiary inappropriately and unnecessarily during a medical examination
Last updated: 17 May 2019
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