Monday, March 29, 2010


Over the last several weeks, dozens of national and state organizations that work with issues of sexual assault and rape have signed-on to endorse First Response Action's mission to work with Peace Corps to support reform for survivors of sexual assault, rape and other crime. The full listing of supporters is below and also on a continually-updated sidebar on this blog.

The support of these well-known and well-respected organizations helps take First Response Action to the next level and we at the First Response Coalition are incredibly appreciative of the support.

If you are a state or national organization, student group, community mission or other group working with issues of sexual assault and rape that wishes to add your organization's support to the mission of First Response Action, email to be added to our endorsement list. Your support enables us to speak with more power having your organization behind our mission.

National Organizations

  • National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center
  • Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

Statewide Organizations

  • Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Arte Sana
  • California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA)
  • Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
  • ContactLifeline
  • DC Rape Crisis Center
  • Florida Council Against Sexual Violence
  • Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Jane Doe: Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
  • Kentucky Coalition Against Sexual Assaults
  • Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault
  • Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • North Dakota Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • North Dakota Council On Abused Women’s Services
  • Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence
  • Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
  • Rhode Island Sexual Assault Coalition
  • Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
  • Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Washington Coaltion of Sexual Assault Programs
  • West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services
  • Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Community Response to Sexual Assault and Rape in Kenya

Another one of the strong women in the legion of female Peace Corps Volunteers is Meg Long, RPCV Kenya, 2003-05. She saw the need in and around her Kenyan village for the community to get additional education about issues of rape and sexual assault. She even created a manual for community organizations to use. Here is Meg's story in her own words as the first guest blogger for the First Response Action Coalition.

As an RPCV (Kenya 2003-2005) I am both very proud to have served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and aware that there is always room for improvement, including within Peace Corps. I feel PC can better serve their volunteers with a standardized protocol for helping survivors of sexual assault. I also feel this will strengthen Peace Corps and allow female PCVs to breath a little easier, knowing they have the support of the organization, no matter what the circumstances. During my service I very quickly became aware of the high incidence of rape in my and the surrounding villages.

As a result I wrote a manual titled “The Bridge is on Fire” which address domestic violence and sexual assault. The manual was written for the Kenyan community as a resource for those who have been assaulted and for those who are trying to support/help someone who was assaulted. After writing and publishing the manual I provided a 3-day workshop with village Chiefs, community leaders, counselors, teachers, health care workers and respected community members. The workshop was very well-received and a bridge of communication was opened on a topic that does not even translate into the local language. I strongly feel that similar and ongoing survivor-centered trainings would benefit PCVs and PC administrative staff.

Meg Long, RPCV Kenya '03-'05

There are many volunteers like Meg throughtout Peace Corps who make lasting impacts in their Peace Corps communities and beyond. That passion and dedication is inspiring. Sexual assault and rape are issues in every country around the world, even though, as Meg points out, it doesn't translate into every language.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Confirmation Received from Director Williams

It is with great pleasure that I announce that I received a letter back from Aaron Williams, current director of Peace Corps, on March 17, 2010!

(Please note: While my intent is to keep this blog focused on the facts, PCV stories and generally written from the third person, I am going to write this post from my own first person account as I feel it is necessary and important for this particular post.)

I am so thankful that Director Williams appears to be taking my situation - and similar situations - seriously. This is a serious matter and I look forward to working with Peace Corps to address the issues of rape and sexual assault against PCVs. Director Williams is also an RPCV and I was hoping he would be open to RPCVs coming to him with suggestions for positive change. I am elated that he responded so positively!

I feel that it is very important here to reiterate that I am a proponent of Peace Corps. Up until I was assaulted, I smiled broadly every day knowing I made the right move to do HIV/AIDS outreach work in a country with the highest AIDS rates in the world even though my family and friends said I was crazy. I felt that I was up to the challenge of the "toughest job you'll ever love." (Which is a Peace Corps' slogan.)

My mission with First Response Action is to enhance what Peace Corps already does in terms of sexual assault and rape protocols. Had my situation been handled differently and had I received the necessary care more quickly, I could very well have managed through a difficult situation and continued my service. I am hoping that with policy creation (and/or enhancement) that we can put protocols in place that will assist other PCV survivors so they can get the care and support they need and possibly continue service.

Many RPCVs will tell you that the retention rates in Peace Corps could be better - a lot better. I was told for Africa to expect that 50% of my group would dissipate by the elusive year one mark. For my training group, that's just about right. At last count, about 40-45% of my group has left our country of service - and 3 of us left due to assault. If PCV survivors were managed better across the board, then there is the possibility that they would be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to continue service. Ultimately, retention of volunteers saves Peace Corps time, effort, materials, monetary resources not to mention that retention is also helpful to maintain good relations with the host country.

On an average annual basis between 2004-2008, roughly 4% of the Peace Corps Volunteer population is raped, sexually assaulted, kidnapped, stalked or otherwise violated. These statistics come from Peace Corps materials - the annual Safety of the Volunteer Reports posted on their website. I have not heard from every single one of the combined 20% of violated PCVs over that five year period (which amounts to nearly 1,500 volunteers, by the way) but I have spoken with several women who experienced trauma as a PCV and who were not taken care of. I am striving to help those people.

As those of us who work with organizations who work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault will tell you, rape and sexual assault are grossly underreported. Those 1,500 are a sliver of what is really happening.

Sexual assaults are notoriously underreported. Fewer than half (48%) of all rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police in the U.S. (Department of Justice, 2001)
Within the Peace Corps community, that's no different.

These crimes are intimate violations and can be shaming or embarassing to admit. Many people keep their stories to themselves. Personally, I have actively chosen to bypass the shaming stage so I can move straight forward towards positive change. I do this so that other men and women can avoid situations like mine. That doesn't mean that I don't feel, at times, that there is some scarlet lettering on my chest, but I push through because I need to. Too many of us have been violated and sent out of our countries of service. No more.

If you are a survivor who is reading this right now - please know that you did nothing wrong. NO ONE deserves to be violated.

While there are many stories of survivors who were handled improperly, I also heard stories of survivors who were treated well, med-evac'd as needed, and were able to continue their service. I am striving to level that playing field. Why isn't everyone attended to in the same manner? I am striving to create and implement protocols that will ensure that EACH and EVERY survivor is treated in the same respectful manner. I am hoping to enhance what Peace Corps already has in place.

In upcoming blogs, we, the First Response Action Coalition, are planning to have guest bloggers discuss the ramifications of sexual assault and rape, proper protocols, the importance of not blaming the victim, etc. I also plan to post some additional survivor stories. Please keep in mind as you read this blog that while it started because of my assault, I am not alone as an RPCV victim of sexual assault.

Annually, an average of 4% of PCVs experience a violent crime, sexual abuse, stalking, kidnapping, a death threat or even death. Some people are not emotionally or mentally prepared to go public with such a personal story. I respect that immensely. As someone who has been violated, I understand that everyone approaches these issues in their own personal way. Peace Corps has these statistics and can contact each of them to see how they felt their situation was handled.

While prevention is optimal, for those survivors of sexual assault, rape and other violent crime, I am striving to work with Peace Corps to bring about protocol to better support those volunteers.

I hope that my response from Director Williams, with his request for the Office of Volunteer Support and the Office of Safety and Security to follow-up with me, will be the beginning of a collaboration to enhance the current Peace Corps model. Though my story didn't end well, I continue to support Peace Corps as an organization and I am proud to call myself a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for the United States of America.

Peace. And Sala Sentle.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Light a Candle for Kate

Kate Puzey was an Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin from 2007-2009. She was murdered in her village and found on March 12, 2009. Her family, the Peace Corps Community and her Beninese community mourns for her.

John Coyne of Peace Corps Worldwide posted this story about Kate, referencing an article in Georgia's Forsyth County News commemorating Kate's death. The Forsyth County News interviewed Kate's mother for the story who said that Kate was murdered because she discovered that her host-country-national co-teacher was sexually abusing some of the school children. The following is from the article, referencing Kate's mother Lois Puzey:

Puzey said the Peace Corps was initially helpful and supportive. Eventually, she and her family weren’t getting the answers they needed. She, along with members of a small advocacy group formed on her daughter’s behalf, went to Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago to get those answers from Peace Corps officials.

“That was a very positive and productive meeting in the end,” she said. “We also spoke to congressmen and senators that we felt could help us find out what we needed.”

The First Response Action Coalition seeks to support PCV survivors of sexual abuse as well as other crimes, which includes supporting families and friends of murdered PCVs. A common thread in many of these stories of assault and crime, typically against women, is that Peace Corps responded proactively and positively in the beginning ... and then support waned.

Kate's family member created this video, posted on YouTube, to remember Kate, her compassion and all that she did for those around her. The family is asking that you light a candle in Kate's memory.

In memory of Kate Puzey.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Expanding First Response Action

Over the last several weeks, since the article I wrote for the National Peace Corps Association's publication WorldView was published, two members have joined the task force of the First Response Action Coalition.

I would like to extend my immense gratitude to Karen Moldovan and Katie Campbell. Both are RPCVs who served in Tonga. Both of them are passionate about reforming the way the current Peace Corps system works with survivors. They also feel strongly about advocating for Peace Corps to move away from the detrimental 'blame the victim' training that is administered in many countries where Peace Corps operates.

Katie, among her many talents, is a fantastic graphic designer. She created the new logo and color scheme for First Response Action which are now on this blog and also on all of the material we send out about this mission.

Karen has been an advocate for many underserved populations, including survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, over her career. She has been steadfast in her support of this mission and I am so thankful to both Karen and Katie that our paths have crossed!

A lot of our work is behind-the-scenes at this moment and I don't want to post any details until something more concrete happens. I will certainly post important updates on this blog as they happen - so keep checking back!

If you are reading this, thank you for finding First Response Action. I hope you feel compelled to support in another way. If you passed this link along to a friend, thank you. You have shared this mission. Thank you for your support!

Please email if you are interested in supporting sexual assault policy reform or if you have a story to share regarding sexual assault and the Peace Corps community.