1.1 What sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is

The term SEA is used specifically to refer to incidents of sexual misconduct committed by humanitarian workers against beneficiaries. While CARE is equally committed to addressing sexual harassment and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), this chapter focuses on prevention of and response to SEA.

We define ‘humanitarian workers’ broadly to include staff and related personnel such as board members, volunteers, personnel or employees of non-CARE entities or individuals who have entered into a cooperative arrangement with CARE (including interns, international and local consultants, individual and corporate contractors, and experts on mission).

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is the abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes. This includes profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another (UN Secretary General’s Bulletin definition).

Principles of defining sexual exploitation:

  • The subjective perception of the recipient of the behaviour in question is foremost in determining whether an act constitutes sexual exploitation.
  • Sexual exploitation involves intentional abuse of power one has over the ‘exploited’.
  • Sexual exploitation can be direct or indirect, manifested in terms of words, gestures, non-verbal cues and physical force.
  • Sexual exploitation and abuse is often seen as a ‘women’s issue’, with women being seen as victims and men as perpetrators. Sexual exploitation is an issue that concerns both men and women equally.


Sexual abuse

This is the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, including inappropriate touching, by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Examples of sexual exploitation and abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • using gestures, looks, remarks or physical contact that is overtly sexual and used as means to intimidate or frighten beneficiaries from receiving their relief entitlements and rights
  • CARE staff or members of partner organisations asking boys, girls or other members of a beneficiary group for sex in return for food and other necessity items
  • community leaders working on behalf of CARE or its partner asking for sexual favours, resistance to which could lead to the non-inclusion in the beneficiary list for relief packages.