Safeguarding Definitions


Safeguarding means:

  • Taking all reasonable steps to prevent harm, particularly sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

  • Protecting people, especially at-risk adults and children, from that harm.

  • Responding appropriately when harm does occur.

It also means protecting staff from any forms of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of power.

Child protection and safeguarding

Child protection is an element of safeguarding and promoting welfare. It refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Child abuse is defined as all forms of physical abuse, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation of a person below the age of 18, including any actions that result in actual or potential harm. Abuse can happen anywhere and at any time, but research shows that the perpetrators of abuse are likely to be known and trusted by the child. The most commonly defined types of abuse are:


Violence towards or deliberate injury of a child.


Using a child for sexual stimulation or gratification.


Behaviour that harms a child’s self-esteem.

Child sexual exploitation

Children in exploitative situations and relationships may receive gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities or others performing sexual activities on them.

At-risk adult safeguarding

An at-risk adult is a person who may need care by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness, and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation.

At-risk adult abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, psychological, financial/material, discriminatory and domestic abuse and self-neglect.


When a person purposefully injures or threatens to injure an at-risk adult. This includes (but is not limited to) hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, misusing medication and applying unlawful or inappropriate restraint and inappropriate physical sanctions.


Unwanted sexual activity or behaviour that happens without consent or understanding.


Emotional abuse that causes distress and can be verbal and non-verbal. Includes humiliating and degrading treatment such as name calling, constant criticism, belittling, persistent shaming, solitary confinement and isolation.

Financial and material harm

Includes theft, fraud, exploitation and pressure in connection to wills, property, inheritance and financial transactions, or inciting an at-risk adult to do any of these things on another individual’s behalf; it may also involve the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions and benefits of an at-risk adult.


Includes a wide range of behaviours such as the failure to provide an at-risk adult with the conditions that are culturally accepted as being essential for their physical and emotional development and well-being. Self-neglect related to the failure to care for one’s own personal hygiene or health.

Domestic abuse

Refers to any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) is a term used by the humanitarian and development community to refer to the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of affected populations by staff or associated personnel.

The term is derived from the United Nations Secretary General’s Bulletin on Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13).

Sexual exploitation

The term ‘sexual exploitation’ refers to 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. This definition incudes human trafficking and modern slavery.

Sexual abuse

The term ‘sexual abuse’ refers to an actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence refers to:

  • Any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act.

  • Unwanted sexual comments or advances or acts to traffic that are directed against a person’s sexuality, involving coercion by anyone, regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including at home and at work.

Three types of sexual violence are commonly distinguished:

  1. Sexual violence involving intercourse (i.e. rape).

  2. Contact sexual violence (i.e. unwanted touching, but excluding intercourse).

  3. Non-contact sexual violence (i.e. threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism and verbal sexual harassment).

While coerced sex may result in sexual gratification for the perpetrator, its underlying purpose is to express power and dominance over the other person.


Grooming is behaviour that an offender uses online or in the real world to procure sexual activity from a child. It can include building trust with children and/or their carers to gain access to children to sexually abuse them.


Coercion covers a whole spectrum of degrees of force. Apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats. These include, for instance, threats of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when a person is unable to give consent, for example, while drunk, drugged or asleep or is mentally incapable of understanding the situation.

Child marriage

The custom of marrying young children, particularly girls, is a form of sexual violence, as children are unable to give or withhold consent.

Modern slavery

Slavery is a situation where a person exercises (perceived) power of ownership over another person. Related terms include ‘forced labour’, which covers work or services that people are not doing voluntarily but under threat of punishment; ‘human trafficking’, which involves deceptive recruitment and coercion; and ‘bonded labour’, which is demanded in repayment of a debt or loan. Modern slavery encompasses a spectrum of labour exploitation, ranging from the mistreatment of vulnerable workers and human trafficking to child labour and forced sexual exploitation.


This refers to the person who has been abused or exploited. The term ‘survivor’ is often used in preference to ‘victim’ as it implies strength, resilience and the capacity to survive. However, how they wish to identify themselves is the individual’s choice.

Bullying, harassment & discrimination


Bullying is the intimidation or belittling of someone through the misuse of power or position, which leaves the recipient feeling hurt, upset, vulnerable or helpless. It is often inextricably linked to the areas of harassment described above. The following are examples of bullying:

  • Levelling unjustified criticism of an individual’s personal or professional performance, shouting at an individual and/or criticising an individual in front of others.

  • Spreading malicious rumours or making malicious allegations.

  • Intimidating or ridiculing individuals with disabilities and/or learning difficulties.

  • Ignoring or excluding an individual from the team/group.


Harassment is generally described as unwanted conduct that affects the dignity of women or men at work, that takes place both within the office and off-site at places such as clinics, conferences and meetings. It encompasses unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal behaviour that denigrates or ridicules or is intimidatory. The essential characteristic of harassment is that the action is unwanted by the recipient.

Harassment can take many forms. It may be directed in particular against women and ethnic minorities or towards people because of their age, disability, gender/gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy status, fertility status, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation or because of them being part of any other protected class. It may involve any action, behaviour, comment or physical contact that is found to be objectionable or that causes offence. It can result in the recipient feeling threatened, humiliated or patronised, and it can create an intimidating work environment.

Examples of prohibited harassment can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Cartoons or other visual displays of objects, pictures, or posters that depict protected groups in a derogatory way

  • Verbal conduct, including making derogatory comments or jokes or using epithets or slurs towards such groups.

Sexual harassment

The definition of sexual harassment includes ‘unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other conduct that creates a coercive, hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment’. The harassment of a sexual nature may be directed at a person of the same or opposite sex.

The key elements of this harassment are that the behaviour is uninvited, unreciprocated and unwelcome and causes the person involved to feel threatened, humiliated, or embarrassed. The behaviour may also be determined to be sexual violence and harassment if:

  • Submission to such conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of employment.

  • Submission to or rejection of this conduct is used as a basis for an employment decision, thereby affecting the staff member.

Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Some examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • Excessive, one-sided, romantic attention in the form of requests for dates, love letters, telephone calls, emails or gifts.

  • Unwelcome sexual advances, such as requests for dates or propositions for sexual favours, whether or not they involve physical touching. This may include an expression of sexual interest after being informed that the interest is unwelcome or in case of a situation that began as reciprocal attraction but later ceased to be reciprocal.

  • Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favours.

  • Unwelcome leering, whistling, brushing against the body, sexual gestures, suggestive comments, staring, sexual flirtation or proposition.

  • Displaying a sexually suggestive object in the workplace or telling or making sexual jokes, stories, drawings, pictures or gestures.

  • Creating or repeating a sexually related rumour about another staff member.

  • Making an inquiry into a staff or associate’s sexual experiences.

  • Reprisal or making a threat after a negative response is made to a sexual advance.

  • Unwelcome physical contact, including pats, hugs, brushes, touches, shoulder rubs, assaults, or impeding or blocking movements.

  • Physical assault, such as rape, sexual battery, an attempt to commit an assault, or intentional physical conduct, such as:

    • Impeding or blocking movement.

    • Touching or brushing against the body of another staff member.

    • Making a derogatory comment or joke regarding an individual’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

    • Making sexual comments about someone’s looks or clothes.

Racial or sectarian harassment

In the workplace, racial or sectarian harassment may take the form of actual or threatened physical abuse, or it may involve offensive jokes, verbal abuse, language, graffiti or literature of a racist or sectarian nature or offensive remarks about a person's skin colour, physical characteristics or religion. It may also include repeated exclusion of a person from an ethnic or religious minority from conversations, patronising remarks, unfair allocation of work or pressure about the speed and/or quality of their work in a way that differs from the treatment of other staff members.


This refers to any unfair treatment or arbitrary distinction based on a person's race, sex, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, age, language, pregnancy status, fertility status, social origin or because of them being part of any other protected class. Discrimination may be an isolated event affecting one person or a group of persons similarly situated or may manifest itself through harassment or abuse of authority.

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