Strengthening Protection

We are currently conducting two applied research projects to improve refugee protection from sexual and gender-based violence: disclosure of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement and intimate partner violence and asylum in the Americas.

Disclosure of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement

Refugees and other forcibly displaced people contexts suffer many forms of SGBV; they also face diverse barriers to disclosing their experiences of harm, which can prevent them from accessing care and protection

In 2018, we conducted exploratory research for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help local service providers detect and respond to cases of rape, trafficking, and other sexual exploitation suffered by so many people who are forcibly displaced in Central America.

We are now developing practice tools to enable safe SGBV disclosure in this dangerous context. This should, in turn, increase survivors’ access to health and legal services. We hope to later develop an adaptable toolkit for SGBV service providers in humanitarian settings across the globe.

Partner violence and asylum in the Americas

Intimate partner violence can be a basis for asylum in many jurisdictions. At the request of UNHCR, we are studying the vast diversity of approaches to this gender-based claim for refugee protection across the Americas region. Our comparative report will assist UNHCR and local partners in advocating for improved training and acknowledgement of intimate partner violence by national asylum adjudicators.

Past Projects

Safe Haven Study (2012-2013)

This multi-country study described and assessed options for physical protection from SGBV in diverse forced displacement settings. In 2015, recommendations from this study were incorporated into the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s 2015 Guidance for Integrating GBV Interventions in Humanitarian Action, the primary source of global guidance for the UN and organizations operating in crisis settings.

Safe Haven image banner

After fleeing conflict-related violence and seeking safety in a refugee or internal displacement camp, is one automatically safe from harm? Where can one find security when risk of rape or other sexual and gender-based violence continues even when one has settled far from the fighting? What are the unique challenges and strategies that arise when providing shelter in insecure, resource-limited camp settings?

Refugee Camp on Thai-Burma border

A refugee camp at the Thai-Burma border.

In 2012, the Sexual Violence Program undertook a four-country qualitative study of shelter options for refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing sexual and gender-based violence. This study was requested by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Policy Development and Evaluation Services in Geneva.

Recommendations from the study have been included in the 2015 Inter-Agency Standing Committee Gender-based Violence Guidelines

The study was aimed at filling the gap between limited international guidance on shelter provision in forced displacement contexts and knowledge about what is and is not actually working on the ground. 

We had three main aims:

  1. Identify and describe shelter models available to refugees, the internally displaced, and other migrants fleeing sexual and gender-based violence.
  2. Identify unique challenges experienced by staff and residents in these settings and explore strategies to respond to these challenges.
  3. Explore protection needs and options for particularly marginalized victim groups, such as male survivors, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities.

The research culminated in five reports: Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, Thailand, and the Comparative Report.

Safe Haven:
Sheltering Displaced Persons from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence;
Comparative Report

Comparative report findings can also be found in a two-page summary.



















Colombia: Spanish
Haiti: Creole (executive summary), and French
Thailand: Thai, Burmese, and Karen (executive summaries)

We shared report findings with contacts in each case study country. We also presented findings and recommendations to the heads of UNHCR and other key policymakers in Geneva in June and July, 2013. UNHCR officials have committed to developing agency guidance based on our study findings.

Funding for this study was provided by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the International Women’s Program of the Open Society Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.