Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Legislation to be Introduced: The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Safety and Security Act

Tomorrow, June 23, Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and Senator Isakson (R-GA) will be introducing the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Safety and Security Act. First Response Action supports this legislation as does Kate’s Voice, the organization created by Kate Puzey’s family following her 2009 murder in Benin, West Africa, related to a confidentiality breach. Kate was a strong advocate for women during her lifetime, including forming girls clubs in her village in Benin, so it is apt that this legislation is named in her memory.

Congressman Poe and Senator Isakson and their staff have worked tirelessly to forward the critical points that we know are necessary to provide improved training to Volunteers and Peace Corps staff, and to improve Peace Corps response to victims of crime. Both offices worked closely with Peace Corps as well as Kate's Voice and First Response Action to build legislation that best supports Volunteers. Peace Corps has verbally expressed their support for the legislation and a press release is anticipated following the introduction of the legislation.

Below are the highlights of the bill. We will link to the legislation as soon as it is introduced and available.

  • Best practices training. The bill installs training that conforms to best practices in the field. The bill requires that Peace Corps work with experts in the fields of sexual assault prevention in order to craft and deliver trainings, both to Volunteers and to Peace Corps staff. By consulting with experts, Peace Corps is able to more effectively deliver a message that encourages reporting and supports survivors. Training can also ensure that Peace Corps staff is ready and able to act after the report of a crime. As RPCVs, the First Response Action board understands the reality of service in the field. Crime cannot always be prevented and risk cannot be eliminated. Implementing a training curriculum that engages bystanders in the efforts to prevent sexual violence while correctly placing the responsibility for the crime solely on the perpetrator is imperative to creating a meaningful response. Relaying important messages about crime and Peace Corps response to Volunteers will help them to adjust to their new reality when they are in their sites. Many Volunteers work with host-country community partners to provide education about sexual assault and gender-based violence and, by installing innovative training for Volunteers, this is one way Peace Corps can be a leader in relaying empowering messages to men and women worldwide.
  • Victim Advocates. The bill mandates that Peace Corps hire four victim advocates. Three of these victim advocates will be assigned to a specific region. Each advocate will be responsible for coordinating access to services for survivors to critical services such as: safety planning, forensic exams, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV exposure, STD screening and information on that specific country’s legal process. Once the survivor returns home, the DC-based advocate will assist them with filing a claim and will continue to assist them for the life of the claim as it moves through the Department of Labor. These advocates are essential to the coordinated and compassionate response that will ensure a survivor’s best opportunity at long term healing. While we recognize that four advocates cannot adequately address the number of Volunteers who report a crime, we do think that this is an important start. The advocates can strongly inform Peace Corps to create survivor-centered policies.
  • Strong confidentiality provisions. Not only are confidentiality provisions considered a best-practice in the field, they are necessary to ensure that each Volunteer feels safe and supported enough to report their crime. Unfortunately, Kate Puzey could have been protected had such measures been installed, which is why the bill extends to whistle-blower protections as well. Installing these measures will, in time, create a culture that supports reporting and through this bill Peace Corps will have a system that is able to respond appropriately. Additionally, First Response Action is pleased that the legislation includes alternative systems for reporting. Such mechanisms have been instituted by the Department of Defense and have proven to be incredibly effective in providing support services for victims who wish to remain anonymous. Fear of losing confidentiality is often identified as a primary concern of victims of sexual assault.
  • Sexual Assault Advisory Council. The bill establishes a Sexual Assault Advisory Council, which will play a pivotal role in ensuring that all policies, procedures and training curricula are in alignment with best-practices in the fields of sexual assault prevention and international victims’ response. Once implemented, the Council will assist in establishing a strong victim service program. Once this Advisory Council is enacted, First Response Action board member Karen Moldovan will serve as the First Response Action Representative and the Liaison between First Response Action and the Council.

We are glad to take this opportunity to support Peace Corps response to victims and those who report or experience crime and harassment. As each of these provisions is integrated into the Volunteer experience, we estimate that more reports of crime will be made. In our discussions with Peace Corps, they also realize that improved training and response is likely to increase the number of incidents reported. Volunteers will have access to critical services and be able to feel supported during their time of service. This will be an indicator of a culture that supports and empowers survivors.

First Response Action looks forward to seeing this important bill move forward in the legislative process. If you would like to contact your Representative to forward this bill, please visit the Take Action tab on our site for more information.

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