Home Blog & Media A survivor-centered approach: the path to accountability

A survivor-centered approach: the path to accountability

June 20, 2024

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Amanda Fleetwood

Associate Trainer/Consultant, US


Sarah Le Pape

Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, IQTS, France

Join us for a conversation with Humentum Associate, Amanda Fleetwood. As a key contributor in the creation of the CHS Alliance Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment (SEAH) Investigation Guide, Amanda also held a central role in the curriculum development for the Investigator Qualification Training Scheme (IQTS). In this blog, she offers a glimpse into what participants can expect from the online learning experience, addresses the existing gender gap in investigator representation, and emphasizes the importance of prioritizing accountability across the global development and humanitarian sector.


As a key contributor to CHS Alliance’s Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) Investigation Guide, can you share a brief overview of this resource and its importance?

The purpose of this Guide and body of knowledge is to include the framework and foundations of SEAH investigations in one spot. It guides you through what you need to consider step-by-step—there are also tools and templates, it’s more like a toolkit.

The challenge previously was that the resources were scattered, so when we developed this Guide, we pulled from existing resources, expertise, and subject matter experts to create it. It’s like a one-stop shop. It’s your roadmap on how to conduct an SEAH investigation, and that’s important for organizations and teams in the development and humanitarian sectors. While there are a lot of nuances in SEAH investigations, it would be even more challenging for teams without it.

It’s not prescriptive, and that wasn’t the intention because every situation will be different; that’s where the investigators’ experience comes into play. But organizations, teams, focal points, and investigators now have this Guide and will know what they can expect to do, and the key points they need to consider, when conducting an investigation.


Following on from that, you played a crucial role in designing the IQTS Tiers 1, 2, and 3. What can learners expect?

The purpose of Tier 1 is to provide a solid foundation on what happens in a SEAH investigation. It’s intended for more than just people who are pursuing investigations. This could be great for entire project teams and the organization as a whole; it’s really broad. And again, it’s that understanding of what happens in an investigation.

Tier 2 takes that a step further and provides more of a solid understanding through a case study, which helps to illustrate some of the key concepts and processes that need to take place. This is important for investigation managers, safeguarding protection staff, and HR professionals. So, the audience is a bit narrower.

Tier 3 is intended for people who are thinking about becoming investigators. It’s more a case of getting down to business and applying the learnings. It’s an opportunity to bring the theory and all the concepts together into a more realistic, practical manifestation of what would happen in an investigation.

Overall, IQTS provides a standard understanding and common language for investigations. It can fit within what you’re already doing and get everybody on the same page. Rather than having to go through full training in person, the Tiers are accessible to almost everybody with a stable internet connection or a mobile data connection. I think that’s what also makes them different—their accessibility.


What does a survivor-centered approach mean to you?

It’s making sure that the survivor is at the center and not on the periphery, so their needs, wants, and desires are at the forefront of any decision-making when it comes to investigations. It’s not a new concept, but it’s not easy to implement in practice because there are many nuances when it comes to a survivor-centered approach. A survivor-centred approach requires the team intentionally design everything they do around the principle.

For example, if a survivor says, “I don’t want to proceed with an investigation; that’s not what I want to do,” that presents a challenge because organizations want to investigate. But if the survivor says no, what do you do?

It really is the survivor is invested in and focused on when it comes to the investigation. So, their emotional, mental, and physical well-being is considered. And they should be updated to the extent possible within the parameters of confidentiality. They’re not taking a backseat. They’re not the object of the investigation; they become more of a participant.


IQTS encourages women and people working in resource-limited organizations to participate by making the training more accessible. How does the current lack of female representation among investigators impact investigations?

Most survivors are women—there’s no arguing that statistic. I think the key challenge here is the power dynamics at play when it comes to gender, especially in certain cultures. For example, when you don’t have investigators who are women, or even investigators who speak the same language as the survivor or come from the same cultural background, then there’s a clear issue with the power dynamics.

This can impact what the survivor is willing to say, what they’re comfortable with, and what they’ll come forward with. So, getting that scale, reaching new people is really important with IQTS—that’s why it’s in different languages. That was an intentional choice. It wasn’t, “Okay, well, maybe we should translate this.” No, we need to get access to people working and living as many countries as possible to ensure that they’re more comfortable reporting. And while gender dynamics play a role, so do language and cultural familiarity.

That’s what we’re aiming at here—having people more comfortable coming forward with their complaints.


In your view, what is the key to achieving survivor-centered investigations as a standard globally?

In some contexts, it might not be as easily translatable because there are differences across cultures and regions. A clear understanding of what the survivor-centered principle encompasses is foundational, and then making sure that it’s not a checkbox of things that we do but something that’s intentionally focused on the victim/survivor throughout the entire investigation, is crucial.

Additionally, ensuring it’s continuously applied through the whole investigation cycle, including interviewing and the conclusion of the investigation, is key. This is also going to be the most challenging part because there’s no one clear way ahead, and the application of that will vary a bit.


What would you like people to take away from this conversation?

I’ve worked with everybody from local CBOs to big INGOs, and something that I’ve seen across the board is that there are policies and procedures, like a PSEAH policy, but they aren’t clear on how they’re implemented, or what happens if there’s a complaint.

What I hope they come out with from this conversation, and from IQTS in general, is a recognition that as global development and humanitarian professionals, it is our responsibility to provide the most relevant, appropriate, and impactful projects to the communities we serve. This means we understand our accountability to the people we serve and take pride in ensuring that we do not cause any further harm to them.

To that end, in the event of a breach of SEAH policies, we must adopt a survivor-centered approach, placing the survivor at the centre of the investigation with utmost care and empathy. Furthermore, our actions should be guided by their rights, desires, and needs to ensure that they receive the support and assistance they deserve and to reinforce our accountability to them.

And reflecting on smaller organizations that don’t have the resources that many INGOs or UN entities have, I hope they have the guidance they need to implement these processes, as well as the clarity on what an investigation entails and how to approach it, and foremost what a victim/survivor needs in their context.

Working for a CSO in the global majority? The Investigator Qualification Training Scheme equips you to become a SEAH investigator and is available in English, French, and Spanish. Join us in reducing gender and cultural gaps in investigations.

Register today