This study analyses survivor testimony and UN global policy on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). It provides an overview of the history of SEA cases within UN peacekeeping missions, noting different forms of SEA. It sets out the history of UN policy responses to SEA and their limitations, additionally examining motivations or interests of troop contributing countries on SEA issues. The article finds that structural and bureaucratic issues have narrowed the approach to SEA as focusing on individual compliance, rather than on the underpinning factors including gender inequality, accountability and contributing country practices. It notes as a limitation the positioning of SEA as a compliance issue, separate to humanitarian protection principles and the women, peace and security agenda.