Protection against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) has become an issue at the forefront of the global humanitarian community’s agenda. Since 2002, with the adoption of the IASC Six Principles on PSEA5 , a number of actions have been taken both at the global and field level to protect affected populations against sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is a form of gender-based violence (GBV) committed by humanitarian actors, including development and peacebuilding actors. These actors include all persons with a contractual relationship with organizations working in the humanitarian and/ or development sector, including UN, International and National NGO staff, implementing partners, volunteers, and contractors, including those working in the context of the refugees and migrants response. It is important to keep the distinction between two different forms of misconduct clear. While sexual harassment occurs between personnel/ staff and involves any unwelcome sexual advance or unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, SEA occurs against a member of the affected population.
As of January 2021, there were an estimated 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela, who had left their country as a result of the political and socio-economic turmoil. Given the large number of arrivals, largely into Venezuela’s neighbouring countries, national capacities have been overburdened and unable to adequately meet the needs of the roughly 4.6 million refugees and migrants who have settled in countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Inter-agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela – Response for Venezuelans (R4V)6 brings together more than 150 organizations from across the region, who, complementing Governments in the region and working jointly with donors, seek to provide a coherent and coordinated analysis, strategic planning and response in the areas of emergency assistance, protection, and socio-economic and cultural integration of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in 17 Latin American and Caribbean host countries.
When personnel of R4V partner organizations commit acts of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against the affected population who look for protection and assistance, it causes severe harm for the survivor. Acts of SEA directly impact the basic human rights, dignity and safety of the populations served by humanitarian actors. These acts can cause harm, stigma, fear, and shame for survivors, which can prevent them from seeking support. There are a number of different consequences for survivors of SEA but a few of the impacts may include: impact on mental health (e.g. fear, isolation, depression), physical impacts (e.g. unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries), cultural and social impacts (e.g. being marginalized within the community) and economic impact (e.g. reduced access to safe income generation actions).
Furthermore, when personnel of R4V member organizations commit acts of SEA the values and principles of humanitarians are betrayed, and the trust and the credibility of the entire system is undermined. SEA is a serious human rights violation, as it is one of the most basic failures of accountability to the people whom the humanitarian system is supposed to protect. The R4V Platform links Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) and PSEA actions as this nexus leads to improvement of understanding and reduction of SEA risks, SEA survivor access to complaints mechanisms, awareness of PSEA principle among the affected population, and that affected people inform how survivor support services are provided7 . It is thus critical for humanitarian leaders to be at the forefront of the protection and response to SEA. Ensuring a systematic and cohesive response to SEA in emergency operations requires strong coordination between humanitarian actors. It is vital that R4V partner organizations remain accountable to the affected population, including refugees and migrants from Venezuela as well as host community members.
The R4V inter-agency response is supporting efforts towards collective PSEA commitments within the framework of the RMRP (Refugee and Migrant Response Plan). The R4V PSEA Mapping is an inter-agency initiative which was initially agreed within the Regional R4V Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) and has been conducted to identify existing initiatives within the different national and sub-regional R4V Platforms as one of the first steps in the process of strengthening PSEA throughout the region.
The key objective of the R4V PSEA Mapping was to conduct a stocktaking exercise of PSEA initiatives within national and sub-regional Platforms to provide a first step for regional PSEA strengthening as a joint effort between R4V Platform partners, as accountability towards PSEA standards is also a collective effort. The mapping aimed to analyse and draw on conclusions on existing activities and programs addressing PSEA, as well as identifying needs and gaps within the framework of the R4V partner organizations. The mapping 8 IASC, Minimum Operating Standards: Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Own Personnel, 2012. https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-task-team-accountability-affected-populations-and-protection-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-4 9 IASC, Six Core Principles Relating to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, 2019 https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/inter-agency-standing-committee/iasc-six-core-principles-relating-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse was guided by the Inter-Agency Steering Committee’s (IASC) PSEA Minimum Operating Standards (MOS)8 based on the IASC Six Core Principles Relating to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse9 . The MOS lays out four pillars which frame the main requirements of effective PSEA systems (1) Management and coordination, 2) Engagement with and support of local community population, 3) Prevention, 4) Response)) which have been employed as the core areas of analysis for the present R4V PSEA mapping.
Although PSEA is a core element of protection strategies implemented by humanitarian actors, it is worth remembering that PSEA is a cross-cutting issue. Working to prevent and address SEA is a collective responsibility for all humanitarian actors, which means that actors in all sectors of the R4V are expected to incorporate PSEA commitments in their programming and work. Mainstreaming of PSEA must therefore be a priority for all sectors, subsectors, working groups and platforms of the R4V interagency response.