Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Policy

Operational policy of the CBA adopted by Board of Directors, April 2021.

Table of Contents

Policy Statement

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is committed to fostering a safe environment in its International Initiatives (CBA II), through proactive, accessible and effective approaches to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). SEA perpetrated by humanitarian or development personnel violates fundamental human rights. It may also be a criminal act. CBA II will act ethically and with integrity and not abuse the power and trust that comes with being part of our organization.

The CBA does not tolerate SEA in any form. As an integral component of a rights-based organization, CBA II must take an active role in preventing, reporting and responding to incidents of suspected SEA. While SEA affects all members of society, its consequences disproportionately affect members of social groups who experience intersecting forms of systemic discrimination or barriers, including sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, religion, Indigenous identity, ethnicity, disability or class. SEA involves abuses of power and power imbalances and is underreported for many reasons, including stigmatization, risk of further trauma, and barriers to accessing recourse. SEA is prevalent and silence surrounds it. The CBA commits to support survivors whether or not they choose to report through the CBA’s mechanisms or through other legal means.

This policy aims to prevent SEA through education and accessible reporting mechanisms, and to respond to disclosures and reports effectively, confidentially and in a timely manner. This policy operates in conjunction with the CBA Principles of Conduct, which sets out the conduct expected of all volunteers and employees acting in any capacity on the CBA's behalf, and the CBA Whistleblower Policy, which facilitates reporting about suspected violations of laws or regulations that govern the CBA.

This policy will be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Six Core Principles Relating to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, 2019  and the IASC Minimum Operating Standards on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (MOS-PSEA).


This policy applies to all persons acting for the CBA II or in collaboration with CBA II programs, including the following persons working with the CBA and partner organizations: employees; volunteers; board members; contractors; agency workers; consultants; suppliers and trainees (collectively, CBA II representatives and partners).

This policy applies to actual and suspected acts of SEA by CBA II representatives and partners against individuals in the communities in which we work. The policy is a guide for CBA II representatives and partners to act ethically in their professional and personal lives. CBA II representatives and partners are often in positions of power in relation to the communities with which we work, especially women and children in situations of vulnerability. CBA II representatives and partners have an obligation to use their power respectfully and must not abuse their power and influence over the wellbeing of participants and community members in communities where CBA II works.


  • Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA): forms of gender-based violence perpetrated by humanitarian or development workers, particularly in humanitarian settings. These acts can be committed against local communities, beneficiaries of direct assistance, or against CBA II representatives and partners.
    • Sexual Exploitation: Actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.
    • Sexual Abuse: Actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.
  • Gender-based violence (GBV): Any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will and based on social ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males, females, transgender and gender non-conforming people. Includes acts or threats of acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, and other deprivations of liberty. SEA is a form of GBV, as survivors of SEA are often abused because of their vulnerable status as women, girls, boys and sometimes men.
  • Survivor: A person who has experienced SEA, including those who self-identify as a victim or victim/survivor. ‘Victim’ is often used in medical and legal sectors. ‘Survivor’ is generally preferred in psychological and social support sectors because it implies resiliency. This policy is survivor-centered and employs that term. A survivor’s choice of how to identify (as victim or survivor) will be respected and mirrored in our language.
  • Informed consent: Ongoing agreement, voluntarily and freely given, based on a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, and implications of an action. To give informed consent, a person must have all relevant facts when consent is given and be able to evaluate and understand the consequences of an action. They also must be aware of and have the power to exercise their right to refuse to engage in an action or to not be coerced (i.e. being persuaded based on force or threats).
  • Beneficiary of direct assistance: A person who receives any assistance – including any type of goods and services – from CBA II or a partner, regardless of the length of CBA II’s relationship with them.
  • Communities in which we work: Any geographical location in which CBA II or its partners directly or indirectly operates, providing either goods or services.
  • Report: Informing a person designated under this policy about an incident of SEA for the purpose of initiating an investigation or disciplinary process.
  • Disclosure: Informing a CBA II employee or volunteer about an incident of SEA for the purpose of seeking support.
  • Sexual harassment: Comments or actions based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that are unwelcome or should be known to be unwelcome.
  • Sexual assault: Any touching of another person without their consent where the touching is of a sexual nature, or where the sexual integrity of the alleged victim is violated.
  • Sex worker: A person over 18 who receives money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who defines those activities as income-generating, even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation.
  • Sexual favour: Sexual acts, often in exchange for money, goods or services. Includes inappropriate photography and filming. The process of sexual favours often takes place through transactional sex. Transactional sex is a common coping mechanism among people in severe situations of vulnerability.

Roles and Responsibilities

All CBA II representatives and partners must adhere to this policy and report concerns about potential SEA of others by any CBA II representative or partner. Any violation of these standards will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or other relationship with CBA II.

CBA II representatives and partners must never:

  1. Engage in sexually exploitative relationships with members of the communities in which we work. They will not exchange money, employment, goods, or services for sex, including sexual favours or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour.
  2. Engage the services of sex workers or otherwise exchange of money for sex, regardless of the local or national law regarding sex work or the laws of their home country.
  3. Engage in sexual relationships with beneficiaries of direct assistance from CBA II programs or their partner organizations.
  4. Request or imply a request for any service or sexual favour from members of the communities in which we work, in return for anything – including protection, assistance (goods or services) or employment.
  5. Support or take part in any form of sexually exploitative or abusive activities, including child pornography or human trafficking.
  6. Engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 regardless of the local age of majority or age of consent. Mistaken belief of the age of the person is not a defence.

CBA II representatives and partners must:

  1. Treat all beneficiaries, members of the communities in which we operate, and other CBA II representatives and partners with dignity and respect.
  2. Actively contribute to creating and maintaining a culture that prevents SEA, encourages reporting, and promotes implementation of this policy.
  3. Be aware that SEA constitutes acts of gross misconduct, is grounds for termination of employment or other relationship, and maybe subject to prosecution.
  4. Report any incident, allegation, concern or suspicion of SEA of another person in the communities in which we work, including potential abuse by other NGO workers or volunteers.
  5. Be aware that absence of evidence or lack of clarity over consent are not reasonable grounds to delay or fail to report SEA.
  6. Treat any information communicated to them in connection with any part of this procedure as confidential, including an investigation into allegations of SEA.
  7. Cooperate fully, promptly and in good faith in any investigation of SEA under this policy. However, CBA II representatives and partners who are survivors of SEA will not be subject to any disadvantage or be obliged to cooperate in any investigation if they do not wish to do so.

Managers and Supervisors must:

  1. Take responsibility for creating and maintaining an environment that prevents SEA, encourages reporting, and promotes implementation of this policy.
  2. Ensure that incidents of SEA are promptly and adequately addressed in a way that demonstrates fairness, impartiality and respect for confidentiality, and is free from intimidation or favouritism.
  3. Have a personal responsibility to report or appropriately address any known act of SEA.
  4. Be free from gender bias and discrimination to ensure fairness when responding to disclosures or reports.
  5. Refrain from questions or judgment that imply blaming the survivor or disbelieving their experience based on gender identity.

CBA II commits to:

  1. Make CBA II representatives and partners, and Global Affairs Canada aware of this policy, through onboarding, training and other measures.
  2. Ensure that those with whom we partner:
    1. Adopt PSEA policies with similar principles, clear obligations requiring their employees and representatives to comply with and report breaches of their policies, and an organizational commitment to act robustly to reports;
    2. Agree in the partnership agreement that failure to do all they can to prevent, report and respond appropriately to allegations of SEA constitute grounds for the CBA to terminate their partnership.
  3. Engage with communities in which we work and inform them of their right to protection from SEA, the standards of behaviour they should expect from CBA II representatives and partners, the importance of reporting, and how to safely and confidentially report any SEA.
  4. Designate the most appropriate reporting mechanism for each project:
    1. in-person reporting to two designated PSEA Focal Points in CBA II local partner office; or
    2. dedicated phone hotlines monitored by local partners, with reporting channels to the Project Manager or Project Director; or
    3. a dedicated CBA II PSEA reporting email address.
  5. Communicate the reporting mechanism for each project to CBA II representatives and partners, and to the communities in which we work, at the start of the project or as soon as practicable.
  6. Ensure reporting mechanisms are gender sensitive, sensitive to the needs of the communities in which we work, and accessible to members of these communities.
  7. Take steps to prevent perpetrators of SEA from being re-engaged by CBA II or other organizations working with vulnerable people. This includes a commitment to procuring and providing accurate references and reporting cases to statutory agencies.

Procedure for Reporting and Investigating SEA

Reporting Incidents

  1. A person may confidentially report allegations, incidents, concerns or suspicions of SEA by CBA II representatives and partners through the reporting mechanism designated for the project.
  2. CBA II employees must report any potential incident of abuse they witness, are made aware of, or suspect, which appears to breach this policy. The report can be made to the employee’s supervisor, the Director of Human Resources, or in accordance with the CBA Principles of Conduct.
  3. CBA II employees receiving a report must refer the report immediately through the reporting mechanism designated for the project. Reports about CBA employees will be referred to the CBA Director of Human Resources.
  4. The person who receives the report will ensure that all materials pertaining to the report are handled in confidence.

Responding to Reports

  1. CBA II will investigate reported allegations of SEA in a timely and professional manner. This includes the use of appropriate interviewing practices with complainants and witnesses, particularly with children. CBA II will engage professional investigators or secure investigative expertise as appropriate.
  2. The person conducting the investigation will consult with the complainant/survivor and undertake an initial risk assessment to identify and implement immediate reasonable measures to protect and support the survivor. A survivor will be informed of the time it may take to institute an immediate measure and is entitled to periodic updates.
  3. Survivors are entitled to be accompanied by a supporter of their choice for assistance or cooperation during the investigation.
  4. The CBA recognizes that the decision to report a concern can be difficult and will support those who raise concerns, whether or not the concern is upheld.
  5. Any doubts about the credibility of the complaint or the person making the complaint cannot be used to justify delaying an investigation.
  6. CBA II will take appropriate action against CBA II representatives and partners who commit acts of SEA, including referring cases to law enforcement agencies where appropriate.
  7. At the request of the survivor, CBA II will refer cases to authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution under the law of the country in which they are based or are working at the time of the alleged incident or to a home agency where extraterritorial legislation is in force.
  8. CBA II will require partners whose employees or representatives contravene this policy to report the potential breach to CBA II and conduct appropriate internal investigations. Failure to do so may result in withdrawal of funding and termination of their relationship with CBA II.
  9. During an investigation, the person conducting the investigation will give reasonable periodic updates to the survivor about the status of the investigation. Updates must not include substantive information about the investigation, except with consent from individuals whose personal information would be disclosed.

Authorities and Related Documentation

  • CBA Principles of Conduct
  • CBA Transparency, Conflict and Anti-Corruption Policy
  • CBA Whistleblower Policy
  • Canadian Bar Association International Initiatives (CBA II) Volunteer Manual