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Knowledge to action: a focus on survivor-centered investigations

April 10, 2024

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Jennifer Probst

VP, Global Operations Strategy and Policies
Conservation International


Sarah Le Pape

Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, IQTS, France

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jennifer Probst, Vice President of Global Operations and Strategy at Conservation International (CI). Drawing from her extensive experience as a lead investigator addressing workplace conflicts, discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment, Jennifer shares valuable insights into fostering a culture of respect and accountability within CI. She also discusses her own experience as a participant in the Investigator Qualification Training Scheme (IQTS) — a collaborative effort by CHS Alliance and Humentum designed to strengthen the global capacity to respond to SEAH allegations.

Seeking knowledge and deepening expertise

CI’s mission is centered on safeguarding nature for the well-being of humanity. In CI’s organizational guiding principles, they have similarly set forth a commitment to safeguarding against sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEAH). Seeking to expand her knowledge on SEAH investigations, Jennifer Probst recently participated in Tier 2 of IQTS.

IQTS equips individuals with the skills and knowledge to undertake survivor-centered investigations and makes this training more accessible to women and staff from resource-limited organizations in the global majority.

"The broader INGO community woke up a few years ago amid scandal, lessons learned, and media articles. Initially, there was a little opportunity, a lot of exchange, and some training. But over the last year or two it has been hard to find anything. This is an important opportunity in terms of practical next steps," she emphasizes.

Embracing a survivor-centered approach 

Jennifer’s participation in IQTS wasn’t just about gaining knowledge—it was a deep dive into the framework of survivor-centered investigations. This approach prioritizes the rights, needs, safety, and well-being of victims/survivors at every step. Alongside her peers, she gained practical tools like checklists and guidance for investigation planning, enhancing their preparedness to handle SEAH cases effectively.

Also central to this approach is the core investigation team, including experts, observers, and support persons. Among them is the role of the survivor liaison. Acting as a vital link between the investigation team and the victim/survivor, they ensure the individual’s needs are heard and addressed with sensitivity and clear communication, furthering a compassionate and trauma-informed approach.

My hope in taking this course is that this becomes the standard...You never want to be behind the standard; that's just best practice. From a risk perspective, it's absolutely necessary, but from a human rights perspective, it's doing what you know is right.

Moreover, the training highlighted the importance of consent, challenging the perception that it simply involves seeking permission. Participants explored how consent involves creating a safe and respectful environment where the victim/survivor feels equipped to express their needs and make informed decisions throughout the process.

Preparedness and taking action

The foundation of effective responses to SEAH allegations is readiness. Key steps to achieve this include:

  • Identifying reliable local support resources for the survivor
  • Developing a comprehensive investigation plan with clear roles and responsibilities
  • Ensuring the entire investigative process is survivor-centered
  • Conducting a dynamic risk assessment when in vulnerable contexts to prevent any further traumatization, retaliation or harm to the survivor and witnesses

Hopefully, this unified approach will make these cases easier, and I say that with a lot of hesitation. Because one thing we talked a lot about is, what is the value for a survivor to come forward and participate in a conversation?

To that end, coercing disclosures undermines investigations and can further harm the individual. Instead, survivors need clear channels and opportunities to come forward on their own terms. By prioritizing a survivor-centered approach, investigators can help improve processes and outcomes for victims/survivors, hold perpetrators to account and rebuild trust.

From prevention to accountability

Like others in the sector, CI is not only focused on responding to credible SEAH allegations, but also on prevention and accountability. Through IQTS, Jennifer not only learned about investigating allegations of SEAH violations, but also became better equipped to refine CI’s practices in alignment with evolving donor expectations.

You can quickly look for certification when a proposal comes through, and the donors ask you to show proof of how you do a survivor-centered investigation, or you can be donor and staff-ready," Jennifer says. "This isn’t just a question of whether an organization is survivor-centered in its approach. Instead, it’s how well prepared are you to handle this?

Jennifer’s commitment to translating knowledge into action highlights the importance of centralizing SEAH concerns and standardizing responses within CI. “There is an opportunity for us to figure out how to continue to build our internal capabilities worldwide in our safeguarding positions,” she explains.

Keeping the momentum

Following high-profile allegations, SEAH frequently comes into the spotlight, Invigorating the sector’s sense of urgency to address and prevent instances of abuse. However, once investigations have concluded the importance of building and sustaining institutional PSEAH capacity often fades away.

A commitment to SEAH prevention requires organizations to adopt a continuous learning approach, so they are so that they are consistently integrating new learning and improving their practices. Survivor-centered training, like IQTS, strengthens capabilities, leading to better investigations, more accountability, and a reduction in future harm. In turn, this builds trust with both communities and donors, strengthening the cycle of prevention and protection.

Jennifer and CI understand the importance of institutional capacity strengthening for PSEAH.  By investing in the IQTS approach, they are contributing to a more equitable and accountable sector, demonstrating that actions—not just words—are the true catalysts for progress.

Funded by USAID | Partnered with CHS Alliance: Our goal is to ensure organizations have equal access to survivor-centered SEAH investigations. We offer training to fit your needs, and we’re committed to making it accessible. If you’re a CSO in the global majority, we encourage you to check out the discounts for IQTS training.

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