The NATO Policy on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Endorsed by NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 20 November 2019

  • 20 Nov. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 21 Apr. 2021 11:51

I.      Introduction

  1. NATO is committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law1.  The NATO Code of Conduct requires all NATO staff to act with integrity, loyalty, accountability, impartiality and professionalism.2
  2. The NATO/EAPC Women Peace and Security Policy and Action Plan3 highlights the principles of integration, inclusiveness and integrity. Through this Policy and Action Plan, the North Atlantic Council endorsed the development of a NATO Policy on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.
  3. Sexual exploitation and abuse runs counter to NATO’s principles and core values, and undermines the effectiveness and credibility of the Alliance and risk mission success.  Therefore NATO has a zero tolerance approach to all acts of sexual exploitation and abuse. As all Allies are members of the United Nations; Allies reaffirm and associate themselves with the applicable UN policies on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

II.     Aims and Scope

  1. This policy aims to instil a coherent, consistent and integrated approach and a strategic level framework to preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse across NATO.

III.    Definitions

  1. Sexual Exploitation is any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another. 
  2. Acts that constitute sexual exploitation include, but are not limited to, the exchange of money, goods or other commodities and or services, employment or any exchange of assistance that is due to the local population in exchange for sex, including sexual favours or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour.  All such transactional sex, including the exploitation of the prostitution of others4, is a form of sexual exploitation.  Sexual relationships based on inherently unequal power dynamics are a form of sexual exploitation. 
  3. Sexual abuse is any actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.
  4. Acts that constitute sexual abuse include, but are not limited to, any action or behaviour of a sexual nature that coerces, threatens or forces a person to engage in a sexual activity, or any unlawful sexual activity with a person under the age of 18. 

IV.    Preventing sexual exploitation and abuse

  1. All personnel are prohibited from engaging in, or facilitating, any form of sexual exploitation and abuse.  All personnel must strive to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse within their sanctioned power and authority.
  2. All personnel will be vetted by the appropriate national authority based on national procedures and regulations in line with this policy.
  3. All personnel will receive mandatory training on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse. Nations are responsible for the provision of mandatory pre-deployment training of their personnel, in accordance with agreed NATO standards. Heads of NATO Bodies are responsible for providing training to their personnel.
  4. In line with NATO standards and guidance, Commanders and Heads of NATO Bodies will be responsible for creating an environment conducive to the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
  5. Risk factors and possible mitigation strategies will be considered in the planning and conduct of NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other Council approved activities. Nations deploying personnel should undertake similar exercises regarding the identification of risk factors and ensure appropriate mitigation is incorporated into the pre-deployment training they provide.
  6. To raise awareness of this policy and to promote prevention, the NATO authorities will integrate communications on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse within the annual NATO Communications Strategy, Strategic Communications Frameworks and NATO communications campaigns.

V.    Responding to sexual exploitation and abuse

  1. NATO will ensure complaint mechanisms exist that enable alleged cases of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse to be duly and appropriately submitted to competent authorities by complainants, to be handled in accordance with paragraphs 16 and 17.
  2. Nations are responsible for conducting investigations and pursuing appropriate administrative, disciplinary or criminal proceedings related to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse concerning their personnel. Discipline over military and civilian personnel provided by Nations is a national responsibility.
  3. For those personnel who do not fall under paragraph 16 above, appropriate NATO authorities are responsible for conducting preliminary investigations and pursuing any appropriate administrative and disciplinary proceedings related to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. Consistent with NATO practice, should preliminary investigations indicate further criminal investigation is warranted, preliminary findings will be handed over to appropriate national authorities. 
  4. Exercise of jurisdiction will be in accordance with applicable Status of Forces Agreements, Exchange of Letters, Military Technical Agreements, or other relevant arrangements concerning the status of NATO and NATO-led forces.
  5. All personnel have a duty to report any instances or allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in accordance with established reporting mechanisms. All personnel are expected to report misconduct in good faith and to cooperate with any investigation.
  6. The Alliance considers any act that violates this policy may serve as grounds for appropriate investigation. Nations will repatriate their personnel where there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation or abuse by those personnel5.
  7. All complainants, victims, survivors and persons accused of sexual exploitation and abuse will be treated fairly with dignity and respect. All information regarding complainants, victims, survivors and persons accused must be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Special attention will be provided to the needs of children. 
  8. NATO will pursue an approach of ‘do no harm’: no action should be taken in implementing this policy that could worsen the situation of a complainant, victim or a survivor. 


  1. Preamble, North Atlantic Treaty and Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, adopted by Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit in Lisbon (2010)
  2. NATO Code of Conduct, Annex 2 of ON(2013)0078 (Agreed by the NAC on 2 December 2013)
  3. NATO/EAPC Women, Peace and Security Action Plan 2018
  4. Consistent with NATO policy on combatting trafficking in human beings, and the associated NATO    Guidelines (29 June 2014)
  5. See United Nations Security Council resolution 2272 (2016).