Unlocking PSEAH success: the importance of private sector involvement

30 October 2023

Interview with Xara Church (Mott MacDonald)

We know that sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) by aid workers occurs during the delivery of humanitarian support and development assistance. Yet there is widespread underreporting across the aid system. This means that organisations working with vulnerable people must proactively uncover SEAH cases and collectively examine how this unacceptable behaviour manifests. 

To achieve this CHS Alliance and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response have united to initiate a SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme. With support from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), the Scheme aims to uncover the scale and patterns of cases while keeping victims/survivors safe. Because ignoring the problem simply allows abuse to thrive. 

The Scheme launched last year. Twenty-five organisations – including international NGOs, national NGOs and private sector organisations – are now confidentially reporting their SEAH data in a harmonised way, creating an evidence base to target SEAH around the world. 

To find out the difference the new harmonisation Scheme could make, we hear from Scheme participant Mott MacDonald’s Xara Church, International Development Unit Safeguarding Lead: 

Why did you want to get involved with a scheme to harmonise SEAH reporting?  

Mott MacDonald joined the Scheme to foster collaboration with our partners working across the development and humanitarian sectors to protect vulnerable people. We recognise the need for collective efforts in understanding SEAH trends and risks. As part of the Scheme, we’re aiming to better coordinate, manage and tackle risks alongside others taking a stand. We need to provide concerted assistance to the communities we help, and this type of coordination enables us, alongside others, to cultivate a culture of safety. 

Private organisations in the development sector share the responsibility with NGOs and others to ensure the safe delivery projects and provide professional, sensitive response in where SEAH occurs. Learning from incident data is essential for shaping best practices and preventing harm from occurring in the first place. 

What do you hope to achieve by being part of the Scheme?

By participating in the Scheme, our organisation aims to contribute to and gain from collective learning. Through the Scheme, we aspire to use our data to evidence and shape better policies and processes to minimise the risks of SEAH. Since SEAH concerns are often underreported, accessing a wider set of data will help guide our practices and initiatives to mitigate risks effectively. Scheme data will also help us tailor strategies in different contexts, making us more effective.   

It is essential that SEAH best practice is shared — the aid community has a shared objective to ensure abuse risks are reduced and working environments are made safe. This should not be a competitive field but one where all organisations feel able to share and engage in ongoing SEAH debates and policy development initiatives. 

Have you seen any benefits by being part of the Scheme? 

Although the scheme is relatively new, we’ve already started to see how we can leverage data to influence policy and procedure. The initial report, while fictionalised, sheds light on potential trends and responses. As we gather more data, in-depth analysis will enhance our understanding of reporting barriers and appropriate organisational responses. 

What do you think it would take for the Scheme to successfully scale up and achieve real impact? 

To successfully scale up the SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme, building trust is crucial.  

We know that concerns about confidentiality and fear of association with SEAH incidents deter organisations from joining. As members of the Scheme which partners with many NGOs, we can say confidently that the identity protection and data anonymisation means others can trust in the Scheme.  

The narrative surrounding reporting numbers also needs to shift from negativity to showing that reporting is a sign of systems working. We support our partners to be open about incidents to deal with them properly and learn from them. To do this we conduct training and awareness campaigns among stakeholders, fostering a culture of openness and learning. 

We strongly encourage our current and prospective partners to join the Scheme to ensure ample data is available for meaningful analysis. 

CHS Alliance calls for more organisations to join the SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme. The more organisations that are part of the Scheme, the better equipped the aid system will be to understand, prevent and respond to abuse in aid. 

Find out more details on the Scheme and how your organisation can play a part in tackling power abuses in aid.