Press release

Survivor focus ‘needed to tackle sexual violence against aid workers’: new guidelines

The European Interagency Security Forum (EISF), hosted by Christian Aid, has today launched vital new guidelines to help humanitarian agencies prevent, prepare for and respond to sexual violence against staff.

The guidelines, which put survivor needs at the forefront, outline basic standards of care that aid organisations should follow. These include the provision of medical and psychological support, the provision of choices for the survivor, the respect of survivor confidentiality and clear response protocols for dealing with alleged perpetrators.

Recent research shows that 87% of humanitarians know a sexual violence survivor in the sector; as such, an appropriate and sensitive approach is paramount according to EISF, an independent network of security experts representing humanitarian and development NGOs operating globally. The ‘survivor-centred’ guidelines aim to raise awareness and support training sessions. They also challenge prevalent myths such as ‘stranger danger’, instead recognising that perpetrators are most likely to be those known to survivors.

Adelicia Fairbanks, Research Advisor at EISF said: “Aid agencies have a duty of care to respond to incidents of sexual violence against their staff. Sexual violence in all its forms violate human rights: incidents of this kind are deeply distressing for the survivor, their family, their colleagues and the whole aid community. Sexual violence incidents also have the potential to leave survivors with lifelong physical and mental health problems. That’s why we believe it is important to equip aid agencies to prepare, prevent and deal with such incidents, in a way that ensures the best possible care for survivors.”

The new guidelines state that women are at particular risk of sexual violence due to historically unequal power relations, but that men are also at risk.

“In conservative societies, restrictive environments may cause staff not to report incidents. Under-reporting may also be the result of an unsympathetic or hostile organisational culture. For staff identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex (LGBTQI), reporting incidents of sexual violence can be particularly difficult due to heightened stigma and varying laws in different countries.”

Eoghan Walsh, Safeguarding Manager for Christian Aid, added: "these guidelines, and others such as the Gender Security Guidelines, developed by the ACT Alliance Security group, support practical, face-to-face workshops globally, to help aid workers with diverse profiles, to address the individual threats they face. We must work together, as a sector, to tackle sexual abuse."