It goes without saying that the passage of The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act is a momentous occasion. With this legislation, we will truly see a BETTER, STRONGER Peace Corps for all Volunteers. As some people may know, I became involved with this issue in 2007, during my Pre-Service Training as Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. Because I had worked in sexual violence response and prevention prior to joining the Peace Corps, I entered my service with a strong foundation in this work. I therefore realized the huge deficiencies in sexual assault prevention training, education, and formalized response protocol. Although I petitioned both in-country staff as well as Peace Corps Headquarters for improved practice around responding to sexual assault, change and a commitment for reform was virtually non-existent. I left Peace Corps truly feeling that the largest source of my frustration with my service was the inability to create change around this critical issue.
Post Peace-Corps service, I had the opportunity to help build First Response Action with other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who cared deeply about this issue. Some of us joined as allies, some as survivors. Together, we were able to build a viable campaign for reform. The list of people to thank would be far too long for a blog post. However, I am deeply grateful for everyone who lent their voice to this cause and would like to acknowledge the members of the Colorado delegation, Senator Michael Bennet and Rep. Ed Pelmutter, who co-sponsored this legislation. This Act truly creates a survivor-centered approach to responding to victims of crime. The confidentiality provisions allow a survivor to regain power and control by allowing her or him to decide when and how agency officials know about this very personal crime. It allows survivors to access critical medical and support services while still maintaining confidentiality. The Act provides improved training for staff and volunteers and oversight for staff who do not follow protocol. It also establishes the global presence of Victim Advocates.
Over the past year, I've been honored to work with Peace Corps' newly-formed Volunteer Sexual Assault Review Panel. First Response Action believes it is critical for an outside panel of experts in the field of sexual assault response to have the ability to review and help revise Peace Corps training, education, and policies. I am excited about the work of the Review Panel and am thankful for the agency's leadership and renewed commitment toward addressing this issue. With the passage of the legislation, a Sexual Assault Advisory Council will now be codified into law!
It is an absolute honor that this legislation is named in memory of Kate Puzey. I've often felt that she's another board member of First Response Action. I hope that her spirit is at peace and we are so thankful for all that she did to make the world a better place for women and girls.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Wow. CSPAN has never been more interesting! Watching the Congressional votes post on Nov. 1 was an incredible reminder to me of the time and effort that it has taken to create awareness surrounding Volunteers who are victims and survivors of sexual violence during their time of service as Peace Corps Volunteers.
For me, serving on the Board of First Response Action has been a remarkable experience both personally and professionally. After I was raped during my time of service, I really did believe that it was just my country that messed up the response. I knew intuitively that I wasn't the only Volunteer that this had happened to, but I certainly felt alone. I learned about FRA and was immediately released from that sense of isolation. I am humbled to have joined a board that worked so hard to examine the individual experiences of survivors, like myself, and translate those experiences into meaningful policy change. This board has truly connected the experiences of men and women with this legislation, and I know that when enacted, this legislation will have a profound positive impact for Volunteers on the ground.
I think we would be remiss to not mention that we are not the first group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to bring up this issue. We know several people, often survivors of crime, that have told their stories since the 1980s to effect change. Carol Clark has been telling her story since the 1980s and I have learned a lot from her perseverance, humility and kindness. She has been pursuing improved services for Volunteers who experience sexual violence for years and we could not have achieved this success without her. We have put in a lot of work, but in many ways I feel that we were able to "tip the scale" only because of the work of so many courageous women before us.
It is impossible for me to not mention Kate Puzey. We know that in her life she was a fierce champion for women and girl's rights. I hope that her legacy lives on in this legislation as more women are able to find peace and well-being after surviving sexual violence.Kate
Even as I write this I am still processing the impact that The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act will have on current and future Peace Corps Volunteers. I first joined FRA because of a manual I wrote to educate members of my community in Kenya about domestic violence and sexual assault. When I began writing this manual I never imagined the end result would be playing a part in ensuring the safety of Volunteers for years to come.
I think of all the people I have met and spoken with since joining FRA over 2 years ago. The amount of collective energy, passion, determination, and dedication is almost too overwhelming to comprehend. But mostly what I think about is my village. I think about all the volunteers who are living in a country most of us could not point to on a map. I think of how isolating and lonely being a Volunteer can be and I think of how terrifying it would have been to been assaulted. Then I think of all the stories I have heard from Peace Corps Volunteers and what they endured even after their assault. For for first time since joining this campaign I am not overcome with anger and a sense of complete injustice when thinking of these stories. For the first time I feel a sense of hope that future Volunteers will not have these same stories. That their stories will include support, compassion, and empathy.
I am so proud of my fellow board members, of the volunteers who provided testimonies, and of all the Congressmen and their staffers who worked tirelessly on this Act. I feel honored that the legislation was worthy of Kate Puzey's name. I feel that a part of her will always have a protective arm around Peace Corps Volunteers.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Ask President Obama to Host a Signing Ceremony for the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act!
(212) 456-1414 - White House Switchboard
Primary provisions of the bill include:
1. Confidentiality for reporters of crime, both victims and whistleblowers, through a restricted reporting system similar to the U.S. Military.
2. Improved training for Volunteers and staff on the dynamics of sexual assault and response policies.
3. A Sexual Assault Advisory Council to provide recommendations on policies and trainings related to victim response.
4. Establishment of an Office of Victim Advocacy.
5. Oversight for Peace Corps staff who respond poorly to reports of sexual assault.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
More than two years ago, I was sexually assaulted as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. I was confused, alone and often walking numb. There were no resources available to survivors. I am thankful that since First Response Action's inception in 2009, Peace Corps now has a manual for staff to be trained on how to respond to sexual assault, that legislation has been passed to support Volunteers and that Peace Corps has hired a Victim Advocate. The tide is turning for victim support in Peace Corps and that success is thanks to supporters around the world. Advocates, survivors, family, friends, RPCVs, Volunteers, former Peace Corps staff, current Peace Corps staff, members (and their staffers) of the House and Senate, staff at Change.org, the National Peace Corps Association, Dr. Karestan Koenen, the Puzey family and the legal team at WilmerHale have made this dream a reality for me that victims in Peace Corps would have rights, access to services and help navigating the rough terrain of the post-assault landscape.
The work of supporting Peace Corps Volunteer victims of crime has only begun. Once legislation is enacted, it is imperative that we follow-up closely to be sure that victims are receiving the services they need and that all Volunteers are being trained on issues of sexual violence. I hope that supporters will continue to lend their time, talent and voices to this cause.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am indebted to each and every supporter of victims of crime in Peace Corps.
Founder & Director
First Response Action