Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peace Corps is Supportive of Change

Several weeks ago, I had a conference call with two Peace Corps staff members, one from the Office of Safety & Security (S&S) and the other from the Office of Medical Services (OMS). Both of them told me that the letter I wrote to Director Aaron Williams, regarding the need for increased support of survivors of sexual and other physical crimes, was taken very seriously and given priority to follow-up.

Here are some highlights from the call:
  • Peace Corps is working on a Rape Response Handbook for use in-country. This would outline procedure and protocol for PC staff and should be available by July. From what I understood on the call, this would only be available on the PC Intranet - not available for PCV viewing - though parts of this handbook would be accessible to PCVs.
  • A Survivor Bill of Rights is to be included in the next version of the Volunteer Handbook, supposedly due out this year. This is Item One on the 7-Point Plan and apparently PC has had this in the works for quite awhile. This was incredibly heartening to learn.
  • PC is working with the advocacy group SOAR - Speaking Out About Rape and as the representative from S&S said "many of the groups listed on the First Response Action blog." It is uplifting to hear that PC is taking notes from state and national organizations that work closely with issues of rape and sexual assault to guide their procedure.
  • S&S' relatively new (2008) director is more survivor-centered than past directors and is focusing on prevention as well as supporting PCVs after incidents.
  • There are plans in the works to re-create the training video which so many PCVs/RPCVs find offensive and victim-blaming. Te three survivors featured in the training video had consumed alcohol when their incidents happened, which naturally draws the conclusion (for many who view the video) that PC is blaming the victims for the attacks they suffered.
  • PC is going to look into beefing up online resources and links for family and friends of PCV survivors. This was one of the items in the 7-Point Plan.
  • Informed Consent for survivors who are determining whether or not to press charges was discussed. It appears that PC's track record for dealing with legal issues around the world is very good. However, if not all volunteers are receiving enough appropriate information with which to make an informed decision, then this is a major gap in the system.

Overall, the staff I spoke with were very affirmative of the 7-Point Plan and implementing systems to better support volunteers. So much of this boils down to staff in-country at the time of an incident. Staff turnover is frequent, by design, and this causes many issues with historical knowledge and uniformity in dealing with issues.

It is heartening to hear that PC has so many items already in the works to better support PCVs who are survivors of sexual and physical abuse. I only hope the new items can get rolled-out quickly for the benefit of currently-serving and incoming PCVs.


Editor's Note 4/18/10: While the initial conversation with Peace Corps medical and security staff went well, it is understood that nothing new is in place yet. At this very moment, the same system is at work, which means that PCVs are still susceptible to the complications from "business as usual." That is why the First Response Action Coalition will be continuing to follow-up and make sure that PCVs are supported and that the necessary change happens. Having plans and implementing plans are certainly two different stories.

While I understand the skepticism from the comments and others who have emailed, I think if Peace Corps is saying that they also recognize a change has to be made, then we should believe them. We will just be more vigilant to make sure Peace Corps follows through. Thank you again for your comments and emails. I always welcome comments, stories and perspectives on rape and sexual assault in Peace Corps. You can email me at


  1. Is it possible Kate Puzey had a similar conversation?

  2. As long as the Acceptance Model is used by Peace Corps for Safety and Security the PCs will be blamed. The PCs are blamed because PC doesn't want to offend the in country government and does not want law suits. This is why there is always blame.

    OSS is mental health. How many professionals work there? For example, psychiatrists?

  3. You are correct "Anonymous," OSS is the Office of Special Services which does have counselors available for PCVs. I do not know how many professionals work for OSS.

    I have changed the ackronym of Safety & Security to S&S for the purposes of this blog posting and not to confuse with Special Services. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

  4. Thank you for establishing this blog. As an RPCV and a survivor, I am curious whether Peace Corps is still relying on under-trained criminal investigators to lead investigations or whether there is talk about using the Office of Inspector General (OIG) again to lead criminal investigations. It is my understanding that Peace Corps changed their policy of who leads criminal investigations in 2008 or 2009, and that in doing so they started relying on fewer and less qualified investigators than they had when the OIG was in charge. Furthermore, I am curious what kinds of changes the new director of S&S is focusing on right now. In my situation, I found the lack of competency by both the country director and the S&S coordinator to be critical in how the criminal investigation was run.

  5. Where can i find a map of countries that are perhaps more at risk to go in the peace corps?