Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Frequently-Asked Questions

Speeches Shim

Table of Contents


Q. What is USAID’s Action Alliance for Preventing Sexual Misconduct (AAPSM)?

A. USAID launched the AAPSM in March 2018 to focus efforts on preventing and addressing sexual misconduct in our workplace and programs. Led by the Deputy Administrator, the AAPSM represents a broad coalition of USAID stakeholders who are dedicated to improving our policies, systems, and processes around sexual misconduct. For more details, please visit our webpage:

Q. What is sexual exploitation?

A. Sexual exploitation is any actual or attempted abuse [by aid workers] of a position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.[1] In more basic terms, sexual exploitation occurs when a person coerces or convinces someone with less power to participate in sexual activities. For example, if an aid worker offers extra rations or money in exchange for sex, even sex without physical contact, including digitally or by text message.[2]

Q. What is sexual abuse?

A. Sexual abuse is any actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.[3] In more basic terms, sexual abuse happens when a person forces or threatens someone with less power to participate in sexual activities against their will. For example, if an aid worker forces someone to kiss them or participate in sexual activities with them.[4]

Q. Who is considered an “aid worker”?

A. Implementing partners should look to the terms and conditions of their awards for specific requirements that may apply to their employees. However, both humanitarian and development partners are encouraged to be aware of any individuals who may be working for or acting on behalf of the organization, whether on a voluntary or paid basis. This includes all international and national staff, as well as all personnel or employees or individuals who have entered into a cooperative arrangement with these organizations, including interns, volunteers, board members, and international and local consultants and contractors, including day laborers.

Q. Who is a “beneficiary”?

A. A beneficiary is an individual, typically a host-country resident or national or refugee from a third country, who is a recipient of, derives advantage from, or is helped by USAID’s humanitarian or development aid. Such individuals are neither employees of USAID nor providers of USAID development assistance. There are two types of beneficiaries: (1) direct beneficiaries and (2) indirect beneficiaries. Direct beneficiaries have direct contact with USAID program interventions, while indirect beneficiaries are those who benefit secondarily from the goods and services provided to direct beneficiaries. For example, a head of household might be a direct beneficiary and dependent family members considered indirect beneficiaries.

Q. What is a survivor-centered approach?

A. A survivor centered-approach is one in which the survivor’s best interest, dignity, experience, and needs are placed at the center of the process—from the initial program design to investigating and responding to alleged incidents, with appropriate accountability for perpetrators of abuse. Consistent with the UN Protocol on Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) Involving Implementing Partners, the survivor should be informed, participate in the decision-making process, and provide consent on the possible use and disclosure of their information. Persons interacting with the survivor and/or handling information regarding the allegation must maintain confidentiality, ensure safety of the survivor, and apply survivor-centered principles which are safety, confidentiality, respect, and non-discrimination.

When the survivor is a child, the approach must engage with the parents, family or other caregivers as appropriate and consider the best interests of the child when deciding what type of services, actions, and orders will best serve a child. Staff and partners should comply with host country and local child welfare and protection legislation and international standards—whichever gives greater protection. Click here to learn more about USAID’s Child Safeguarding requirements. You can also find more detailed information in the Partner Toolkit.



Q. Where can I find USAID’s policy on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA)?

A. You can find USAID’s PSEA Policy here. Additional tools and resources can be found by visiting USAID’s Partner Toolkit.


Award Requirements

Q. What are the basic award requirements for USAID’s implementing partners related to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)?

A. All USAID contracts and assistance awards to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must include the following three provisions addressing SEA:

  • Code of Conduct (Employee Misconduct): USAID implementing partners must ensure their employees conduct themselves in a professional manner when carrying out awards, consistent with the standards for United Nations (U.N.) employees in Section 3 of the U.N. Secretary General’s Bulletin - Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. In the event that an employee’s conduct violates these standards, our partners must consult/coordinate with the cognizant Agreement Officer/Contracting Officer (AO/CO) and Mission Director. The U.S. Ambassador may direct the removal of any U.S. citizen from the country and require termination of any employee from an award. See ADS 303maa, M14 and ADS 303mab, M11 for the grant provisions for U.S. and non-U.S. NGOs and AAPD 18-03 for contract requirements.
  • Counter-Trafficking In Persons (C-TIP): USAID opposes any activities that may contribute to human trafficking, including the procurement of commercial sex acts and use of forced labor, consistent with Trafficking Victims Protection Act requirements. The Agency has adopted a C-TIP Code of Conduct, a set of standard operating procedures, and a C-TIP Field Guide. The Agency prohibits its employees, contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and recipients from engaging in behaviors that facilitate or support TIP. If an implementing partner receives any credible information of a TIP violation by the implementing partner, subawardee, or contractor, at any tier, or their employees, labor recruiters, brokers or other agents, the implementing partner must immediately notify the cognizant AO/CO and the USAID Office of Inspector General (OIG) at 1-800-230-6539 or 202-712-1023, or via e-mail at See ADS 303maa, M20 and ADS 303mab, M15 for the C-TIP grant provisions, which provide that if the estimated value of services required to be performed under the award outside the United States exceeds $500,000, the recipient must submit an annual certification and implement a compliance plan. Similarly, the Federal Acquisition Regulation Clause 52.222-50 directs most contractors performing services or providing goods outside the United States with an estimated value in excess of $550,000 to implement and certify to a compliance plan. Please review the terms of your agreement, as well as the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and ADS 303 mandatory provisions for clarity on the requirements for compliance plans.
  • Child Abuse, Exploitation Or Neglect: Child Safeguarding Standards, included in all USAID contracts and assistance awards to NGOs (other than contracts for commercial items) require recipients to abide by core principles that prohibit personnel from engaging in child abuse, exploitation, or neglect. The standards also incorporate child safeguarding in project planning and implementation and institute procedures to prevent and address violations. These protections stem from the U.S. Government Strategy Advancing Protection and Care for Children in Adversity and the Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-95). These protections are included in ADS 303maa, M27 and ADS 303mab, M25 as mandatory standard provisions for grants and cooperative agreements, and are included in AIDAR 752.7037 for contracts.

Q. Are there any additional requirements for awards in humanitarian relief or conflict-affected settings?

A. In addition to the requirements referenced above, implementing partners—including contractors, NGOs, and public international organizations, with awards involving International Disaster Assistance (IDA), Transition Initiative (TI), or Food for Peace Title II (Title II) emergency funds—must, before receiving funding, adopt a code of conduct to protect beneficiaries from SEA in humanitarian relief operations consistent with the six core principles adopted by the U.N. Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Protection from SEA in Humanitarian Crises.

Partners who receive IDA and Title II emergency funds from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) are also required to provide details on how the code of conduct will be implemented within a specific field project. For additional information on requirements specific to IDA and Title II emergency funds, please review BHA’s Application Guidelines.

Q. Are sub-agreements covered by the aforementioned award requirements?

A. Partners should review the terms of their grants and/or contracts to verify flow down of any requirements to their sub-agreements. Generally, for assistance awards, the requirements will flow down to subawards. For acquisition awards, both the C-TIP and Child Safeguarding requirements will flow down to certain subcontracts. In each case, partners are responsible for ensuring that their sub-agreements are in compliance with any applicable requirements.

Q. How do the PSEA, C-TIP, and child safeguarding policies and award requirements interact?

A. PSEA, child safeguarding, and C-TIP are all key components of a unified safeguarding regime. Taken together and applied effectively, these distinct yet connected frameworks can help strengthen safeguarding and protections for vulnerable populations across USAID programming. The principles concerning gender equality, inclusive development, robust feedback, and a culture of accountability are also critical for building a safeguarding regime and operating environment that reduce risks for the most vulnerable.

Regardless of the type of safeguarding violation, USAID takes, and encourages our partners to take, a survivor-centered approach to allegations, placing the survivor’s experiences, considerations, and needs at the center of the process, with appropriate due process and accountability for alleged perpetrators of abuse. When the survivor is a child, the approach must consider the best interests of the child and engage with the parents, family, or other caregivers as appropriate.

When responding to allegations of safeguarding failures in programming, implementing partners should check their award requirements for specific terms and guidance. In some instances, an incident may relate to two or more policies and/or award requirements, in which case, partners should ensure they are compliant with all relevant requirements. For example, procurement of sex from a beneficiary is both a violation of the C-TIP requirement and the PSEA Code of Conduct, and if the survivor is under the age of 18, child safeguarding requirements also apply.

For more information on the specific child safeguarding award and reporting requirements, please see the child safeguarding FAQs and for best practices regarding child safeguarding, please see the child safeguarding best practices sheet.

For more information on the specific C-TIP award and reporting requirements, please see the Guidance on Implementation of the C-TIP Code of Conduct.

Q. Does USAID have PSEA requirements for public international organizations (PIOs)?

A. USAID’s current policies, procedures, and requirements for agreements with PIOs are found in ADS 308 and its references. references. The Agency is developing standards and reporting requirements for PIOs in line with the PSEA Policy, and also in consultation with other donors and U.S. Government agencies. As new agreements are reached on these standards and procedures, they will be incorporated into Agency policy, primarily via ADS 308.

Q. Where can I find international standards on PSEA?

A. There are several recognized standards around PSEA. USAID endorses the Interagency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Six Core Principles on SEA, and our partners are required, through their code of conduct, to ensure that their employees behave in a manner that is consistent with these principles. The CHS Alliance and Core Humanitarian Standard are also commonly-consulted frameworks for addressing SEA within the international community.



Q. What are basic elements of an PSEA safeguarding regime?

A. A comprehensive approach to PSEA requires integrated efforts in programming, compliance, and human-resources processes. The principles concerning gender equality, inclusive development, robust feedback, and a culture of accountability are all critical to an environment that reduces the risks of SEA for the most vulnerable. At the corporate level, adopting a Code of Conduct on PSEA consistent with international standards is a primary means of prevention. A Code of Conduct should define the key values and standards of behavior to which members of the aid community hold each other accountable. This establishes a common set of expectations, regardless of local laws and customs.

At the program level, prevention tools include protection-mainstreaming, gender analysis, the mapping of PSEA risks, mitigation measures, and safety audits. Recognizing that individuals are best able to identify the most-pertinent risks and safest mitigation strategies for themselves, effective program-level prevention strategies hinge on dialogue with the populations we serve. Ongoing input from the people we serve will produce the safest programs. Consult USAID’s PSEA Policy for greater detail.

Q. How are partners supposed to pay for SEA safeguards?

A. While final decisions on cost allowability, allocability and reasonableness will rest with the cognizant AO/CO, USAID recognizes the need to strengthen the aid community’s overall capacity for PSEA including individual organizations’ varying levels of existing capacity.

Q. Does USAID provide PSEA training to implementing partners?

A. Implementing partners are responsible for educating their staff and sub-awardees and sub-contractors related to their PSEA. Partners may consult USAID’s PSEA Policy and Partner Toolkit  for additional information and resources. Numerous organizations, including InterAction, currently offer PSEA training. Additional materials and resources are included in the Partner Toolkit.



Q. Are USAID implementing partners required to report SEA?

A. In 2018, USAID issued implementing partner notices for acquisition (IPN #10) and assistance (IPN #6) clarifying our expectations for contractors and non-governmental organization partners around SEA. USAID encourages such implementing partners to closely consult with the cognizant AO/CO and Mission Director regarding any credible allegations of SEA, and report allegations to the USAID Office of Inspector General (OIG). Partners are required to consult with the MD and AO/CO when there is a code of conduct violation. In addition, there may be situations in which allegations of SEA intersect with requirements around C-TIP. In those instances, partners should consult the C-TIP award requirements to ensure they are meeting mandatory C-TIP reporting requirements. Complaints can be submitted anonymously with an online form through the Office of Inspector General Hotline website, by telephone at 1-800-230-6539 or 202-712-1023, by email at, by fax at (202) 216-3801, or by mail to the following address: U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Inspector General, P.O. Box 657, Washington, DC 20044-0657.

Q. What is USAID’s policy on whether partners should share personally identifiable information (PII) in reports of SEA?

A. USAID expects its staff and partners to protect the privacy and confidentiality of individuals involved in SEA incidents. The Agency’s PSEA Policy clearly articulates the importance of appropriately safeguarding any personally identifiable information obtained during the reporting process, which should only be shared on a strict need-to-know basis.

It is USAID’s general policy to encourage partners not to share the personally identifiable information (PII) related to survivors, as this could pose significant risks to their safety and security and is not necessary for Agency purposes. In the case of alleged perpetrators, USAID for the most part does not require PII. In these cases, partners should consult closely with their cognizant AO/CO as well as with the USAID Bureau for Management’s, Office of Management Policy, Budget, and Performance, Compliance Division (M/MPBP/Compliance), who can be reached at: The Office of Inspector General maintains their own policies related to the collection of PII and can be reached by telephone at 1-800-230-6539 or 202-712-1023, by email at, by fax at (202) 216-3801, or by mail to the following address: U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Inspector General, P.O. Box 657, Washington, DC 20044-0657.

Q. What happens when I report SEA to USAID?

A. Once a report is received by the cognizant AO/CO, USAID will review the information provided by the partner and may ask follow-up questions, as appropriate based on the particular facts and circumstances, and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award. Those questions could include, but are not limited to, questions about: the safety and wellbeing of the survivor, including whether the survivor has been provided access to appropriate support and whether they are protected from retaliation; the alleged perpetrator, including whether he/she is a partner employee and therefore subject to the code of conduct requirements; whether government authorities have been notified or are involved in the matter; and partner internal controls and response mechanisms.

Partners are strongly encouraged to simultaneously report credible allegations of SEA to USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG reviews reports independently and may also choose to initiate an investigation or request additional information as needed.


Investigation and Response

Q. Does USAID directly investigate reports of SEA?

A. USAID expects our partners to have internal controls and procedures that align with the terms and conditions of their awards and the applicable requirements for assistance in 2 CFR Part 200 and for acquisition in the FAR and the AIDAR. This includes having the internal capacity for and/or access to external support for taking necessary actions to assess alleged code of conduct violations, including for SEA incidents (see below for more information on SEA investigations), as well as other related safeguarding issues, such as child safeguarding and C-TIP, consistent with their awards. USAID does not investigate individual incidents. However, in some cases, the OIG may choose to initiate an investigation of its own, under its independent authority.

Q. How are investigations of SEA different from investigations related to fraud, waste, and abuse?

A. Investigations into sexual misconduct and other traumatic events require a specialized skill set. Specialized training is available through a number of organizations. Generally, all investigators should have the ability to use active listening skills and communicate non-judgmentally. In addition, SEA investigators should, at a minimum, have the ability to:

  • Use a survivor-centered approach in their interactions with reportees (or person calling for information);
  • Demonstrate empathy;
  • Demonstrate cultural competence, including knowledge of local customs and social norms;
  • Communicate essential information about reporting and care options to a caller/reportee/survivor; and,
  • Defer to the caller/reportee/survivor to make their own decisions about what is best for them.

Q. Who pays for survivor support?

A. Any partner requests for reimbursement of costs incurred in responding to an incident of SEA will be evaluated by the AO/CO against the relevant cost principles.

Q. What is the role of USAID personnel, including the USAID AO/CO or the AO/CO’s Representative (AOR/COR)?

A. USAID has zero tolerance for SEA in its programs. Accordingly, USAID staff may follow up on such allegations, as appropriate, and engage with implementing partners to ensure that allegations are appropriately investigated and addressed.

USAID staff are required to report allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse of the beneficiaries of USAID assistance to the Office of Inspector General at +1 (202) 712-1150 or In addition, USAID staff are strongly encouraged to notify the cognizant AO/CO as soon as they become aware of the allegations.

While partners are not required to provide additional information regarding each individual incident, program teams may consider asking additional follow up questions of the partner in order to make a recommendation to the AO/CO on the appropriate award remedy and consider whether the matter should be referred to M/MPBP/Compliance. Specifically, they may ask implementing partners what they are doing to address the needs of the survivor who directly experienced the sexual exploitation or abuse—including protection from potential retaliation. Program teams may also ask partners what they are doing regarding the alleged perpetrator, including ensuring that any investigations incorporate appropriate principles of due process.

AOs/COs may also take a range of award management actions in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award, including referring perpetrators for potential suspension and debarment (see question below). Effective communication between the AO/CO, AOR/COR, and implementing partner is essential for ensuring an appropriate response to all allegations of serious wrongdoing.

Q. What is the role of suspension and debarment in this process?

A. USAID relies on a wide range of tools and remedies, including but not limited to suspension and debarment, when engaging with partners on potential performance and compliance issues. Suspension and debarment are discretionary tools used by the U.S. Government (USG) to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that USG funds are only entrusted to individuals and entities that are presently responsible. In the context of sexual misconduct, suspension and debarment actions are intended to protect the USG and prevent SEA by excluding individuals identified as perpetrators and/or excluding implementing partners that do not have appropriate SEA safeguarding and reporting requirements. Only USAID’s Suspending and Debarring Official can make suspension and debarment determinations on the Agency’s behalf. 

Q. Does USAID expect partners to report allegations of SEA that are related to non-USAID programming?

A. USAID does not require implementing partners to report allegations of SEA that are unrelated to USAID programming. However, such reporting can help the Agency identify broader trends and risk factors related to SEA within a specific operating context. To the extent that implementing partners choose to report such incidents to USAID, we will protect this information and use it to inform our own prevention efforts.



[1] Donor Commitment Statement - 2018 Safeguarding Summit.

[2] Interaction and Translators Without Borders - No Excuse for Abuse: Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Action (English)

[3] Donor Commitment Statement - 2018 Safeguarding Summit.

[4] Interaction and Translators Without Borders - No Excuse for Abuse: Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Action (English)