New Interpol project adds “H” for harassment to SEA


Sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) is a reality in the peacekeeping and humanitarian aid sectors worldwide with Interpol now stepping in to prevent it in specifically the aid sector.

Project Soteria, currently being implemented in Africa and Asia, aims to prevent sexual predators from abusing some of the world’s most vulnerable people according to a statement from the international criminal police organisation.

In its largest ever partnership with the aid sector, Interpol’s new project aims at cracking down on perpetrators of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH, adding another component to the SEA used in military and peacekeeping) working for humanitarian and development organisations.

Project Soteria is named after the Greek goddess of safety and has enlisted support from 20 prominent aid organisations, including Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The globalised nature of humanitarian and development work, combined with the urgency to recruit and deploy staff presents challenges in conducting thorough screening of personnel before and after hiring.

Too often, past sexual offenders are able to continue working and moving in the sector, putting children and vulnerable adults at risk Interpol alleges in its statement.

“We must end sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the international development and humanitarian sectors,” said Foreign, Commonwealth and Development (FCDO) Minister with responsibility for safeguarding, Vicky Ford.

“That is why the UK is working with Interpol, NGOs and others in Project Soteria to identify and take action. We are shining a spotlight on these abuses to keep vulnerable people safe,” Ford said.

“Aid sector organisations often provide a sanctuary for women, men and children in the midst of conflict or poverty, they are also targeted by individuals seeking to abuse the vulnerable,” Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock said.

“The broad cross-sector partnership Project Soteria has built with the UK’s support demonstrates common commitment from the aid sector and law enforcement to protect aid recipients and bring sexual offenders to justice, no matter the circumstances,” Stock added.

Aid organisations are vital in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, delivering development and humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering of vulnerable communities worldwide. SEAH perpetrators undermine this mission, harming the people they are meant to protect and assist.

Project Soteria seeks to build trust between aid organisations and law enforcement while working to strengthen capacity to prevent and respond to SEAH cases.

Leveraging its global databases and 195 country police network, Interpol will work with national law enforcement to reinforce SEAH investigations and manage criminal records. The global police organisation will collaborate with the aid sector facilitating information exchange and bolstering efforts to detect previous and deter potential offenders.

“I see first-hand the devastating impact sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers has on individuals, families and communities. Project Soteria promises to make perpetrators accountable and deter others from committing these wrongs.  This will reassure survivors abuses are taken seriously and their rights are recognised and protected.” said Jane Connors, UN Victims’ Rights Advocate.

In the coming months, Project Soteria will roll out simultaneous workshops to train 100 child protection and sexual or gender-based violence investigators in East Africa and South Asia to use Interpol capabilities and other tools to target offenders.

Interpol’s Project Soteria team will then launch in-country activities, including the organisation’s first ever joint law enforcement and aid sector workshop on SEAH and a two-day training course for aid sector employees, volunteers and interns on what constitutes SEAH and how to respond to it.

A global “search and check” scheme will be developed to enable selected pilot aid sector organisations to forward Interpol information on candidates to identify individuals possibly posing a threat to vulnerable adults and children.

Project Soteria is funded by the FCDO and benefits from technical support from the UK Criminal Records Office (ACRO). An advisory board of representatives from government, law enforcement, the UN, legal experts, the private sector, civil society and survivors of SEAH in the aid sector informs the project.