The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of women by UN personnel was first raised in 2001, following persistent and serious allegations of abuse by humanitarian workers of refugees in West Africa with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs. In reaction, the Security Council included a reference to sexual abuse and exploitation within the peacekeeping mandate of the mission in Sierra Leone in resolution 1400 (2006) and has since regularly included reference to addressing SEA in peacekeeping mandates. Following up on this, the Secretary-General issued a bulletin, the Secretary-General’s Bulleting on Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which defines acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, and classified them as “serious misconduct for all UN staff, including UN agencies, and stressed that these rules should also apply to entities and individuals working in cooperative arrangements with the UN.” There are significant collaborative efforts between UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to address SEA and its effects. Furthermore, in late 2007 the General Assembly adopted a strategy for assistance to victims of SEA and several programs have been put in place to implement this strategy.
Despite these various efforts, it remains particularly difficult to track cases of SEA. Although many survivors have overcome significant challenges to report abuse, it is difficult to determine what then becomes of the cases. Furthermore, the UN does not itself have the power to discipline those found responsible. The abusers are often sent back to their home countries where they face little or no disciplinary measures and may end up simply being sent to another peace support operation. Addressing impunity is one of the most challenging and most important aspects of addressing SEA.