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 firstname.lastname@example.org.