2019 report on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse – Press Conference (13 March)

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Press Conference by Jane Connors, Victims’ Rights Advocate on the Secretary-General’s 2019 report on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

UN Victims’ Rights Advocate Jane Connors said the Secretary-General’s strategy on sexual exploitation and abuse shifted the UN system’s focus on how to implement the “zero-tolerance approach” and “refocused our attention on victims.”

Speaking to reporters in New York today (13 Mar) following the release of the Secretary-General’s 2019 report on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Connors said there was much that has been done, but more remained as the needs on the ground are great. She said, in her role, she was trying to entrench a rights-based approach in preventing and responding to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by all UN personnel, as the global advocate for victims.

She added, “Previously, the emphasis had really been on conduct and discipline of personnel and on the reputation of our complex family of organizations. These, I don’t underrate, [are] enormously critical issues, but I think we need to appreciate what these wrongs do to victims and their communities. What these wrongs do to the very purpose of the United Nations work, because these wrongs do indeed fracture trust; and when I look at them, I think the exploitation – not underrating abuse; abuse is appalling – but the exploitation really fractures trust in communities.”

Connors stressed that focusing on victims means encouraging people to report allegations of SEA, investigating allegations in a victims-centred way, and holding people accountable through UN means and by working with Member States on legal accountability. She said there was a need to support victims with practical assistance, including with medical care and legal representation. She said it was important to remember that there was no one-size-fits all approach as every victim has different needs.

Turning to paternity claims, the Victims’ Rights Advocate said these were complex as they “often involve several jurisdictions” and require the UN to work with Member States. She said the UN was “working on ways for the women to gain access to the legal support they need to pursue those claims.”

She said, generally, the men in these cases would have to provide DNA which is usually done by consent. She stressed the need to support women in pursuing those claims, adding that there were several cases where the parties agreed on child support.