IFRC’s new policy on the prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse is a renewed “solemn promise” to all persons of any gender identity in all the countries and communities in which we provide humanitarian support.

Noting that sexual exploitation and abuse may be “one of the most grievous ways in which the IFRC can fail in its mission”, the policy enhances how IFRC safeguards the people we work alongside. It also strengthens a culture of trust in which people are respected, have the confidence to speak out, are informed of ways to report abuse, and are protected if they do so.

Its rules are primarily designed to prevent any abuses from taking place, but also include robust measures to strengthen how IFRC responds to those that may nevertheless occur.

All IFRC personnel are already bound by a Code of Conduct, Anti-Harassment Guidelines, Child Protection policy, Anti-Fraud and Corruption policy and Whistleblower Protection policy, which can be accessed here. The Code of Conduct expressly forbids the sexual exploitation and abuse of anyone, including people who “look to or benefit from [IFRC’s] protection or assistance”. Prohibitions also cover the use of abusive material and any exchange of “money, employment, goods or services for sex, including sexual favours or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour.” The prohibitions extend to engagement with sex workers.

The policy reinforces and complements these existing strict rules and sets out clear responsibilities for all personnel. These include completing mandatory training in the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA); reporting any PSEA incidents they have witnessed, have heard about, or suspect; the obligation to cooperate fully with any investigation, and the obligation to ensure the confidentiality of any reported incident. The document also spells out responsibilities for managers, including at the field level, to implement the policy.

As harassment, abuse and exploitation are under-reported in every line of work and every country in the world, the obligation and mechanisms to report any suspected abuses are among the most important elements of the policy.

Tina Tinde, IFRC’s Gender and Diversity Coordinator, said: “To anyone who has been hurt or is afraid, I would say: we want to hear you and will listen to you. We will investigate the facts you report, and we will protect you at every stage of the process. IFRC will hold any abuser fully and promptly accountable.

“We can support you in many ways, including referrals to psychosocial, medical, legal and safe-house services. And we will ensure that the specific needs of child survivors are met,” said Ms Tinde.

IFRC’s approach to PSEA is grounded in survivor-centred principles – Do no harm; Respect; Safety; Confidentiality; Non-discrimination, and Child protection. The policy formally covers IFRC staff and contractors, and may be a useful reference for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies developing their own policies. All members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are obliged to develop and enforce such policies, as per Resolution 3 of the International Conference in 2015.

The implementation and effectiveness of the policy will be monitored closely and will be reported upon publicly in the interests of full transparency.

“Saving lives and changing minds is our mandate; keeping people safe is central for us. Everyone who works under the IFRC umbrella should live and breathe the standards we have codified here,” said Julie Hall, IFRC’s Chief of Staff.

“This is a solemn promise we’re renewing to the people we work with and for. Our Governance will be holding us all accountable in honouring that promise, as will the general public, and our most important partners – the communities we serve.”