top of page

First do no harm: sexual violence and hostile environment training

Sexual violence, in all of its forms, is one of the most prevalent types of violence worldwide. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that over half of women and almost one in three men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Given that sexual violence is one of the most common forms of violence people will face it should be a core part of any hostile environment training curriculum.

Yet, traditional hostile environment courses are still failing to make it a key learning priority or to teach it appropriately. In a recent survey, we asked a range of people what their experience of sexual violence training had been on traditional security courses. Here are a few of the answers:

These experiences show that we still have a long way to go as a sector before learning on sexual violence prevention and response is provided in a way that truly benefits learners. So why is sexual violence training so often so bad?

While the reasons may vary based on the course or curriculum, here are seven frequent reasons why sexual violence training fails learners.

1. Sexual violence sessions have often been added on to the ‘core curriculum’ of a hostile environment course. Even though sexual violence is much more likely to happen than kidnapping, being interrogated, or having your car stolen, it is still not taken as seriously in training as these other threats.

2. Hostile environment facilitators and trainers are frequently uncomfortable discussing sexual violence. If there are female facilitators, they are frequently assigned with teaching the topic - not out of sensitivity for the learners, but because male facilitators either feel that it’s a ‘women’s issue’ best handled by a woman who is, 'more sensitive.'

3. Sexual violence sessions aren’t taught in a way that is sensitive to learners who may have experienced sexual violence. There is a common misconception that having a woman teach the curriculum is adequate. However, the gender of the trainer has no bearing on the trauma-informed approach required by the content.

4. Many sexual violence training sessions are not evidence-based. This means they perpetuate myths and misconceptions about sexual violence rather than addressing the prevention of, and response to, sexual violence as it is most likely to occur.

5. Sexual violence training continues to focus on the victim/survivor's actions or behaviours, as well as what the person experiencing sexual violence could have done to avoid being made a victim. This frequently focuses on women's behaviours and actions - where women go, how they dress, and how they behave.

6. Sexual violence is a hidden harm. Most training doesn’t teach people how to assess the environments they are entering for evidence of sexual violence or the risk it may occur. This perpetuates a lack of awareness and responsibility for mitigating the risk of sexual violence until it occurs to the individual.

7. Sexual violence is normally taught in isolation from other aspects of the training so scenarios, simulations and activities have not been created with a trauma-informed approach and could be perpetuating harm.

Sexual violence training, along with many other parts of HEAT, has typically been created from a singular, pervasive perspective: that sexual violence occurs only to young women when they encounter scenarios drawn from imagination and the media. In fact, we know sexual violence affects all ages, genders and orientations. By continuing this singular perspective, courses embed a sense of blame, shame and silence for those who do not fit the conventional image of a victim and disempower those who do.

At Safer Edge, teaching people about sexual violence is one of the most important things we do. We base any learning on sexual violence around five principles:


Our training must do no harm. People cannot learn if they are in a trauma response or being traumatised. All our hostile environment training and personal security trainings embed a trauma-informed approach which alerts learners to triggering topics, normalises that there may be triggered responses, and lets learners know what to do if they are triggered.


Sexual violence is a core module in all our security trainings regardless of the threat level of the environment in which a person is working. We know that sexual violence is threat in every location and should not be treated as a threat ‘out there’ or specific to 'dangerous' places.


All of our staff and learning team are comfortable discussing sexual violence – not just in training and with learners – but also with our clients, security managers and others in the sector.


Our content does not focus on a single gender. Everyone can experience sexual violence and focusing on women, or reducing sexual violence to sexual assault, stigmatises and hides the breadth of sexual violence which is occurring against people of every gender.


Our training curriculum was developed from multiple perspectives – including frontline aid workers, people who have experienced sexual violence, training experts, psychologists and psychotherapists. Approaching sexual violence from multiple perspectives helps ensure that the traditional view of sexual violence is challenged.

Since launching HEAT e-learning two years ago, our module on preventing sexual violence continues to be top rated and frequently mentioned as one of the highlights of how HEAT has changed. Here is some of the feedback from just one year of HEAT e-learning participants.


“I think the course did a very good job of approaching very tricky subjects like sexual violence with care and compassion. The fact that it was created by women really comes through.”


“The module on sexual violence was especially good.”


“The sexual violence session was the best thing about the course.”


“The sensitivity around warning and trauma triggers is really helpful for those of us who have been through some things.”

We are committed to shifting people’s experience of sexual violence training from one of frustration and disengagement to learning and empowerment. We want every person who receives training to understand the evidence-based risk they face and to know how they can play an active role in reducing that risk for themselves and others.

Want to know more? We're happy to share our learning or discuss our approach with you. Email us at:


Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page