Given that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’m dedicating this month’s column to highlighting a few movements that address support for victims of sexual assault and ways for men to be a bigger part of the solution.
First Response Action
There are many ways to stand in solidarity against sexual violence. Perhaps one of the most important ways is to advocate for victims and provide them with the needed support and services. In the Peace Corps, the way each post responds to sexual assault and rape is not always uniform. To be clear, they are not ignoring the problem and do have some systems in place.
For example, in South Africa, the medical unit made it a point to talk about the need to get in touch with them immediately if one was ever raped so that they could get the victim on PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), in order to minimize the risk of transmission of HIV. If taken within 72 hours, PEP can drastically reduce the chances of transmission and its something that more people should be aware of, even outside of SA.
Much of the support needed after an incident of rape or sexual assault though, is not related to bio-medicine, but rather to mental health. On this front, there are many ways that the situation could be improved in the Peace Corps and elsewhere.
During the two years I served in South Africa, there were multiple rapes of female PCVs and there were multiple incidences of sexual assault. Our post and our fellow PCVs responded to these in a sometimes haphazard way. Sometimes facts were distorted. Sometimes victims were blamed. Neither of these are acceptable. I think much of this was due to both our post and our PCVs not taking enough time to prepare a response to sexual assault and rape. Fortunately though, out of this chaos has emerged a movement within the Peace Corps community to do better.
First Response Action is an advocacy group headed by Casey Frazee, a fellow South Africa PCV, who was a victim both of sexual assault and of poor support from the post after the incident. Casey is trying to get the Peace Corps to adopt a 7 Point Plan to provide a more uniform and supportive response to the realities of sexual violence against volunteers. It is a cause not just for victims, but for all fellow volunteers, and friends and families of volunteers to stand together with those that have been victims of sexual violence.
To get the ear of a big government organization like the Peace Corps, we need all the support we can get. Please visit http://firstresponseaction.blogspot.com/ to find out more about the campaign and see how you can help. Of course, this response may be specific to Peace Corps, but the problem is not. It’s worthwhile looking into whatever organization you work for or travel with to see if they have a well thought out strategy to respond to incidents of sexual violence.
AJ Kumar, RPCV South Africa
In a recent post, here, I shared that the Peace Corps representatives I spoke with in March said that they are supportive of change. In fact, they already have momentum in the direction of a Survivor Bill of Rights being included in the Volunteer Handbook. Several of the other items on the 7-Point Plan are yet to be determined, but the First Response Action Coalition remains vigilant of progress, ultimately keeping survivors and current volunteers as the highest priority.