Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)
There are high rates of sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia, particularly involving child victims, and harmful traditional practices and beliefs that affect the rights (including reproductive health rights) of women and girls are prevalent. Rape is the number one crime reported week after week in UN Crime statistics, which reflect the national trend. Many survivors of sexual violence and exploitation are unwilling to look for medical or psychosocial assistance, or to report the assault to the police because of the associated stigma.
There is a fragile and barely functional justice system, a lack of correctional facilities, and an inexperienced newly recruited police force, which lacks logistical necessities as well as community trust. Within this context, effective response to sexual gender based violence (SGBV), which requires specialized knowledge and skills, poses seemingly overwhelming challenges.
Separately, the economic and social vulnerability in Liberian society widens the power differential between the large number of humanitarian workers in the country and the beneficiaries of their assistance, making the latter highly susceptible to SEA. The overall vulnerability of a majority the population lends itself to the development of conditions in which SEA can flourish.
As a result, the existence of SEA as a form of GBV has been recognized as a national problem and has been prioritized for action by the President.
In an effort to combat Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA), the United Nations in Liberia has taken measures to prevent, report, and investigate SEA cases, and to impose sanctions against the perpetrators. One such measure was the development of the In-Country Network (ICN). The ICN is a network of representatives from the United Nations and international NGOs that serves as the primary body for coordination and oversight on prevention and response to SEA among the humanitarian community. Since its establishment in 2005, the ICN in Liberia has taken steps to ensure enhanced accountability, coordination, and communication relating to the prevention and response to cases of SEA by personnel working for the UN, its affiliated partners, international NGOs and other humanitarian assistance workers.
Working in close collaboration with the government of Liberia and local partners, the ICN in Liberia has enjoyed a significant level of success in setting up mechanisms to implement international standards and policies relating to the prevention of SEA, not the least of which are the Secretary Generalís Bulletin on Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse ST/SGB/2003/13 and the Statement of Commitment on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Non-UN Personnel (2006).
The innovative approach taken in Liberia is a result of several enabling factors such as the countryís relatively small size and population, the Government's prioritization of the issue, a strong UN presence, and the large local and international civil society presence.