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Preventing sexual abuse and exploitation in Iraq

"As humanitarians, we have a collective responsibility to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and exploitation in Iraq,” said Jennifer Emond, a UNFPA specialist on the subject, during a training in Iraq.

While sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)[1] can happen in any context , the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is escalated, especially during crisis and conflict. The Iraq Network to Protect from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, co-chaired by UNFPA and WFP, is working with the UN and the NGOs to end these abuses.

For the last two months, UNFPA with support of PSEA network partners, has been training humanitarian workers across Iraq on the principles of protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA); including how to prevent abuses and respond if they occur. “So far, we have trained up to 400 humanitarian workers from all sectors in Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk, Baghdad, Basra, Soran and Erbil,” said Ms. Emond. “Those aid workers will themselves act as trainers, reaching out to hundreds more with critical information that can improve protection for vulnerable populations.”

Improving reporting and protections

These trainings help humanitarian staff understand how sexual exploitation and abuse can occur in different scenarios, and the consequences this can have on the survivor, the community, and all humanitarian actors. Participants are taught to understand the unequal power differentials between aid actors and the community and realize what behavior is not acceptable, and how they can safely respond when they receive complaints or witness abuses, including by reporting to the PSEA Network.

“Now that we have confidential reporting system in place, we are trying to raise awareness… among partners and staff on what kind of behavior we should follow when interacting with beneficiaries and for staff to know how to report when they come across such cases,” said Ms. Emond.

Following the successful completion of our trainings other organizations and government agencies have expressed an interest in participating; “The Department of Labour and Social Affairs of Thi Qar Governorate requested UNHCR to conduct the same PSEA training for their staff,” said Alia Albuswailem, UNHCR’s focal point for addressing sexual and gender-based violence in Iraq.

A safe environment

Over the course of the training, participants develop an action plan to ensure that all their staff understand what is SEA, what policies are in place, and what are their obligations. “The training gave us a wider perspective on gender-based violence. I want my staff to be well-informed on gender-based violence issues and challenges,” said Akram T. Hamasaiid, from People's Development Organization, a UNFPA partner that manages six women’s support centres.

“We serve more than 1,500 women and girls each month. They reach out to us for advice and psychosocial support. It is important that we inform them about their rights and empower them to resist and report against PSEA.” he added. “We need to provide them with a safe environment.”   

[1] Sexual Exploitation is the actual or attempted abuse of a position of authority, trust, or vulnerability for sexual purposes. Sexual Abuse is an actual or attempted physical intrusion of a sexual nature under unequal or coercive conditions. 


For more information on PSEA training, please contact Ms. Jennifer Emond

For more information or media inquiries, please contact Ms. Salwa Moussa