Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Best Practices for Peace Corps Reform of Physical and Sexual Assault

It is critically important to be aware of best practices in the field when undergoing systemic change. In a new feature, News from the Field, First Response Action Coalition member Kate Finn discusses sustainability and best practices from government resources that Peace Corps could use as models when revamping their physical and sexual assault protocols.

Peace Corps Pre-Service Training (PST) is one of the most intense learning environments that Volunteers will experience during their time of service. Volunteers learn Peace Corps policies and protocols, how to live and work in a new culture and how to implement relevant community development projects. There are two themes emphasized during this period: cultural integration and sustainability. Sustainability is loosely defined as the process of garnering community support to start a project and building further support so the project lives on after the Volunteer has completed their service. Sustainability is a lofty but important goal and, if achieved, will result in demonstrable positive change for the people in that community.

As a PCV in Costa Rica, the concept of sustainability was never far from my consciousness. At the risk of sounding glib, if not slightly heretical, I will share what became my Volunteer group’s unofficial motto during our time of service: “If you’re working hard, you’re not doing your job!” This motto was a constant reminder (a) to keep humor on our side and (b) that our energy was much better spent building on our community’s successes rather than re-inventing the wheel.

First Response Action (FRA) is asking the Peace Corps to do the same. As a coalition, FRA has identified organizations with specific expertise in the area of crime prevention while abroad, and response to U.S. citizens who become victims of violent crime while abroad. These organizations have already built prevention training curricula, identified critical topic areas, and developed salient protocols – so it seems natural to bring them into the discussion.

Here’s a piece of trivia for you - Peace Corps is an independent agency directly under Congress, not under the State Department. As such, Peace Corps has access to extensive resources built right into the Federal government. Here are a few examples of relevant government resources that we have found thus far.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC has comprehensive resources that break out types and techniques of prevention, the way culture influences the dynamics and reporting of sexual assault, and ways to effectively implement a training program. CDC defines prevention in three steps:

· Primary Prevention: Approaches that take place before sexual violence has occurred to prevent initial perpetration or victimization.

· Secondary Prevention: Immediate responses after sexual violence has occurred to deal with the consequences of violence in the short-term.

· Tertiary Prevention: Long-term responses after sexual violence has occurred to deal with the lasting consequences of violence and sex offender treatment interventions.

CDC has a proven, comprehensive and survivor-centered approach to this issue. Peace Corps can only benefit from partnering with CDC to update their existing training program both for Volunteers and in-country staff.

FBI, State Department and U.S. Department of Justice

Response protocols and crafting survivor-centered policies: The FBI has a dedicated Victim Assistance Unit that would be a valuable resource to Peace Corps in the development of immediate response protocols to sexual and physical assault. The State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime are other organizations that keep abreast of national research related to sexual assault and victimization that would aid the Peace Corps in developing trainings and responses that are relevant and workable in today’s international setting.

U.S. Military

SAPRO is the organization responsible for the oversight of Department of Defense (DoD) sexual assault policy. The Department of Defense is committed to the prevention of sexual assault, with the vision “To enable military readiness by establishing a culture free of sexual assault.” The Department has implemented a comprehensive policy to ensure the safety, dignity and well being of all members of the Armed Forces. Our men and women serving throughout the world deserve nothing less, and their leaders — both Military and civilian — are committed to maintaining a workplace environment that rejects sexual assault and reinforces a culture of prevention, response and accountability. Source. http://www.sapr.mil/index.php/about

FRA commends the U.S. Military for their extensive efforts to improve their response to sexual assault. We feel that their willingness to partner with experts on this issue demonstrates a strong commitment to improving sexual assault response services for military personnel. FRA recommends that Peace Corps consult with the DoD SAPRO and their partners to similarly strengthen and improve PC’s response. Within the military, these partnerships have led to the development of a training program for civilian victim advocates to better support service member victims of sexual assault and enhancing the national hotline with resources for military survivors. Innovate partnerships with individuals and agencies with expertise in sexual assault prevention are being utilized to shift the culture in the military to prevent sexual assault.

Over 50 years, Peace Corps has formally and informally gathered experience and knowledge on all aspects of the Volunteer experience. They have recorded crime since 1990. Bringing this knowledge together with another agency’s specific expertise on the area of response to violent crime will not only augment Peace Corps’ response to Volunteer survivors today but also establish a precedent for future consultation thereby ensuring sustainability. As national best practices change and grow, so too Peace Corps response would evolve to better serve those Volunteers who become victims of violent crime during their time of service.

As a member of the FRA Coalition, I respectfully submit that in order to produce comprehensive, survivor-centered training and policies, Peace Corps must consult with these and other non-governmental agencies. FRA is working to see that policies are created and implemented that reflect national best practices. This will ensure that Volunteers who are victimized during their time of service have access to resources through Peace Corps that facilitate healing and wholeness on their own terms.

Kate Finn, RPCV Costa Rica

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