Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Settings: Multiple Perspectives and New Responses

L’Osservatorio’s volunteer Clara Cotroneo, speaker of the panel “Working on SEA - experience from the field” at the London School of Economics L’Osservatorio’s volunteer Clara Cotroneo, speaker of the panel “Working on SEA - experience from the field” at the London School of Economics Laura Morselli, L'Osservatorio

On November 30 and December 1, a delegation of two volunteers from L’Osservatorio has participated to the workshop ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Settings: Multiple Perspectives and New Responses”, organised by the London School of Economics.

Over the course of two days, this workshop has brought together scholars and practitioners to share their research findings, field practices and potential solutions to this multifaceted and complex problem. In order to allow for an all-encompassing and comprehensive reflection on the issue, the workshop programme has included the first-hand experiences of practitioners working at all levels of humanitarian intervention and human rights lawyers, prompting discussions on the necessity for better informed and effective policies, how to overcome their limitations and support their implementation. The workshop has represented the perspectives and need for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse of civilian and aid workers, on the one hand, and the necessity to prevent and prosecute perpetrators, including peace-keepers, UN and NGO personnel. Specific topics included the dangers faced by civilians in camps, the difficulty in preventing and investigating these crimes, accessibility to justice and legal responses.

Dr. Fiifi-edu-Afful, Research Fellow and Deputy Programme Head of Peace Support Operations (PSO) underlined the importance of pre-deployment specific training of peacekeepers in reducing the number of crimes perpetrated.

Kelly-Jo Bluen (researcher at The London School of Economics and Political Science ) and Yassin Brunger (African Feminist and International Lawyer) spoke about the issue of impunity and criminal accountability, claiming that a failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity. Related to accountability, Kirstie Farmer, research and policy adviser and legal assistant at the Norwegian Refugee Council, presented her work on the use of DNA evidence in the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence by UN peacekeeping forces. Capucine Fouchier, MHPSS technical advisor and staff care specialist, intervened on the discrimination, harassment and sexual violence faced by women humanitarian aid workers. Several other speakers enriched the discussion on the topic of sexual harassment and exploitation in humanitarian settings.

The contribution of our volunteers Clara Cotroneo and Laura Morselli has focused on civil society’s campaigning against sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of human trafficking, in conflict and post-conflict affected regions. With the role of civil society continuously redefined, negotiated, assessed and questioned, it has become important for practitioners and for activists to find effective means to address communities of supporters as well as leaders. Effective communication is fundamental to mobilize communities and influence law and policy making. In their study, our volunteers have investigated the social media campaigns of major NGOs, like Global alliance against trafficking in women, Save the Children, Amnesty, Maiti Nepal, Hope for Justice, committed to fighting sexual exploitation and human trafficking and individuated the characteristics a tweet should have to trigger engagement. The main question addressed was ‘what trigger users’ engagement on social media’ when talking about sexual exploitation and human trafficking of war affected civilians. The aim is to better understand what prompts people to engage with global issues and act upon them. Their social media analysis has been complemented and enriched with interviews of communication officers at organizations around the world such as Devatop, Maiti Nepal and Hope for Justice. On behalf of L’Osservatorio, we would like to warm-heartedly thank every interviewed for sharing their time and practices and advancing our understanding of the hard work of advocacy.

We firmly believe that building a fair and just society starts from our own individual involvement and participation and we strongly support the hard work of NGOs around the world. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to get in touch, if you wish to be interviewed and contribute or if you are an NGO in need of some advising or suggestions on how to structure your social media campaigns. Last but not least, we would also like to thank the London School of Economics for creating a space to discuss one of the most pressing issues in humanitarian contexts.


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