, Volume 93, Number 2

Jasmine-Kim Westendorf and Louise Searle
In 2013, a UN investigation declared sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) ‘the most significant risk to UN peacekeeping missions’. The exploitation and abuse of women and children by peacekeepers, aid workers, private contractors and other interveners has become ubiquitous to peace operations, ranging from rape to transactional sex, sex trafficking, prostitution and pornography. This article investigates the causes of SEA by interveners, and the development of policy responses undertaken by the UN and the international humanitarian community to prevent and ensure accountability for SEA. We argue that use of the umbrella term ‘SEA’, while helpful in distinguishing such behaviour from other forms of abuse, obscures the significant differences in the form, function and causes of the behaviours that fall under it, and we develop an account of the dominant forms SEA takes, based on survivor testimony, in order to better understand why policy responses have been ineffective. Our analysis of global policies around SEA demonstrates that it is dealt with as a discrete form of misbehaviour that occurs on an individual level and can be addressed through largely information-based training processes that inform personnel of its prohibition but fail to engage them in discussions of the local, international, normative, systemic and structural factors that give rise to it. We identify the structural and bureaucratic pressures that have contributed to the narrowing of approach regarding SEA to focus on individual compliance rather than the more complex set of factors at play, and which have undermined the effectiveness of policies globally.

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