Reducing Recruitment Risks for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
- Webinar -

Prevention is the best protection when it comes to reducing the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

How can your organization ensure that perpetrators of sexual misconduct are not putting your program participants at risk? And how can we as a sector ensure that those people aren’t moving within and between different humanitarian and development agencies?

Learn from our speakers on some ways you can enhance your recruitment practices, while ensuring you are respecting Canadian legal frameworks.

Inez Ksiazek
Misconduct Disclosure Scheme Coordinator

Erica See 
Senior Legal Counsel, Canadian Red Cross

Shauna Gibbons
Administrative Law Department Head, Main Street Law LLP

The Inter-Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme

Inez Ksiazek, coordinator of the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, presented the work her organization is doing and explained the Inter-Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme. Sexual exploitation and abuse have had a huge and ongoing impact on NGOs and their ability to respond to humanitarian needs. The Scheme was launched to address the specific problem of known sexual abusers moving within and between different humanitarian and development agencies.

The Scheme

  • Facilitates sharing of misconduct data to future employers
  • Respects data protection and employment law
  • Enables any hiring organization to get better information to make a better hiring decision
  • Protects staff and beneficiaries

Risk Management

Risk management is more than legally protecting your organization.  Risk management is identifying where is the potential for harm in your organization, who is most at risk as a victim and a perpetrator of this harm, and setting a strategy to mitigate or prevent this harm.  Wanting to avoid a law suit is an important start in the direction of PSEA. However, it is important that organizations implement a comprehensive strategy that includes:
  1. due process;
  2. effective policy and procedures; and
  3. implementation of those policies and procedures.



Could you provide more specific advice on good screening practices to reduce risk in the recruitment process?

Systematic checking of references including a Statement of Conduct as per the MDS. Taking seriously any allegations that are mentioned (even if informally), asking the candidate to confirm this during the interview, and ensuring strong communication throughout your organizations PSEA/safeguarding policies from the job advert to onboarding.

Can you specifically ask a former employer if a candidate has been found of committed misconduct without breaching confidentiality rights?

Yes, you can – this is specifically what the scheme does (refer to the website for details of this).

Some examples of language from the sector (outside of Canada) include:

    • Would you re-hire this candidate given the opportunity? Yes/No
      • This is a good question to ask especially in cases where you cannot legally ask for more details about misconduct records.
    • Was this candidate the subject of disciplinary action? Yes/No/Unable to respond
      • If yes, please provide details on the nature of the allegations and the outcome of the disciplinary process, including sanction.
    • Was this candidate found to have committed misconduct involving sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or sexual harassment? Yes/No/Unable to respond
      • If yes, please provide details on the nature of the allegations and the outcome of the disciplinary process, including sanction
    • Is this candidate currently under investigation for misconduct, including allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse, or harassment? Yes/No/Unable to respond
  • Request references from former supervisors and/or HR teams (not candidate’s personal references)
  • Ask questions about how the candidate interacts with community members, other colleagues, people from diverse backgrounds, etc.
    • Be sure to go beyond asking about technical skills

  • If possible, verify credentials and/or conduct criminal background checks for positions where the candidate will interact with vulnerable people.
    • For example, be sure to check if the person is actually a doctor or psychologist…
  • Include integrity/PSEA questions during the interview. (scenario-based questions recommended)
  • Conduct a values session highlighting the organization’s values and code of conduct prior to moving forward with reference checking.

Kindly note that local recruitment is actually a high-risk activity with the potential for (sexual) exploitation of candidates. It’s important that HR recruitment procedures are in place including having a recruitment panel (rather than one individual) with both men and women, explicitly stating that money or other in-kind exchanges for jobs is not permitted, clearly listing complaints channels, etc.

We are seeing increasing opportunities for engagement of volunteers in a remote or online context. What advice or considerations would you have for assessing and mitigating potential risks of PSEA in this context? Tools we have in place for in person engagement may not be as applicable, e.g. reference checks, police checks, monitoring tools, etc.
  • Reference checks are fully possible remotely and online (over email etc.) Clear communications are also critical throughout, as can acceptance of a clear code of conduct. 
  • Risk assessment is extremely important in this case and should include a thorough review of the local context, including the prevalence of GBV, norms around local complaints and conflict resolution, etc. I would connect with local organizations or leaders to get a better understanding of the context prior to moving forward. Schedule regular check-ins to get feedback on how the program is going, discuss any concerns… If the context does not allow for you to mitigate these risks, you might need to rethink the activities altogether.
  • Short briefings should be conducted: use this video for humanitarian context and this video for development contexts for example. Supplement the video with details about organization policies, reporting mechanisms, etc.
    • Track data on % of volunteers who have been briefed.
  • Have staff/volunteers sign a short code of conduct. Use the simplified 6 Core Principles from Translators Without Borders in over 80 local languages.
      • Think about a pocket card that also includes reporting channels.
      • Track data on % of volunteers who have signed the code of conduct.
  • Refrain from gifting t-shirts with your organization’s logo for volunteers – recommend using vests and lanyards that must be returned at the end of the day. This is a way to ensure that they are not used improperly.
  • Review reporting mechanisms that volunteers can access and ensure they are briefed.
    • If possible and appropriate, look at working with local complaints channels (including local leaders).
  • Appoint Safeguarding Focal Points (at least one man, one woman) who are trusted that can serve as a channel to receive questions and concerns, and channel them up to your organization.
      • Be sure that they do not conduct investigations themselves (for their safety).
      • Check-in with them regularly.
  • Consider how the recruitment of volunteers is done – be sure that it does not exacerbate existing power dynamics or conflicts, exclude marginalized people, or put volunteers at risk. 
Can you speak to the value added of asking employees to declare in writing a statement to the effect “I declare that I have not ever engaged in any sexual abuse or sexual exploitive behaviours and that I understand and commit to not do so”. Not just when they apply, but also when they sign their contract and again 1-2x per year.

The main purpose of such statement is that they give clear grounds for disciplinary processes – you broke the clearly signed commitment you made when we offered you the job – so are useful when things go wrong and provide a modicum of legal protection. There is also a suggestion that making such a statement reminds staff of their commitment. However, in practice almost all abusers are aware of this and ignore it, so I think this second argument is less valid, and the cost-benefit calculation gets even worse if the administrative challenge is stepped up by repeating the exercise – This can be minimized by doing it via an online form or website rather than paper, but even then in my view the costs are likely to outweigh the benefits, and there is a real risk that you annoy or alienate staff in the process.  

One key value added to this practice is to send a signal to the candidate (or staff member) that PSEA is an important issue for the organization.

Some language that could be used includes:

    • Have you been subject to sanctions (disciplinary, administrative or criminal) arising from an investigation in relation to SEA? Yes/No
      • If yes, please provide additional information
    • Are you currently under investigation or have you resigned prior to completion of a SEA-related investigation? Yes/No
      • If yes, please provide additional information
    • Are you in a romantic relationship or married to an individual under the age of 18? Yes or No
      • Kindly note that this is an important question to prevent hiring staff who are in relationships with children (IASC Core Principle #2)