Puzey Act Implementation
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, August 1st, 2013
Twenty months after the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act was signed into law, leading Returned Peace Corps Volunter (RPCV) advocates say while there has been progress, significant work remains to fully enact provisions of the law.
Peace Corps officials assert that assessment doesn’t take into account the agency’s most recent progress. And, they say by September 1st, Peace Corps will near full implementation of the Kate Puzey Act.
The group First Response Action (FRA) released a report card on July 31st to note progress and highlight areas where more improvement is needed. FRA gave the agency an overall grade of C. The highest grade, a B-minus, was given for support mechanisms provided to affected Volunteers reporting sexual assault upon their return home. The lowest grade, a D, was for foundational policies in addressing the issue. Two other categories — training and in-country response – received grades of C.
According to FRA, “…most of the agency’s progress implementing the Act has occurred during Carrie Hessler-Radelet’s tenure as Acting Director since October 2012. First Response Action also appreciates the agency’s cooperation in providing updates on its implementation efforts. The reality remains however that the agency has a significant amount of work left to implement the Kate Puzey Act and must act with far greater urgency.”
In response, the Peace Corps says it “has made extraordinary progress in establishing new policies and practices that reflect our absolute commitment to reducing risks for volunteers and responding effectively and compassionately when crime does occur. There has been nothing short of a broad culture shift at Peace Corps, and our new approach is Volunteer-centered every step of the way.”
Findings and Reaction
Points made in the FRA report card and responses by the agency include the following:
- Reports of Sexual Assault: Citing Peace Corps’ 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey, FRA says one in eight volunteers reported being sexually assaulted in 2012. This would mark an increase from a Peace Corps Inspector General’s report which stated 1,000 sexual assaults occurred between 2001 and 2012. The agency says its best source for crime statistics is the Statistical Report of Crime Against Volunteers, which in 2011 reported 2.76 sexual assaults for every 100 female volunteers.
- Confidential Reporting System: FRA says another finding in the survey was that 50% of sexual assault victims did not report their assaults to the Peace Corps. Reports indicate According to the FRA report, Peace Corps is now beginning the process of initiating in-country training related to providing a confidential reporting system. While the agency indicates a roll out of this new option for incident reporting is underway, FRA contends the matter needs to be addressed with a greater sense of urgency.
- Definition of Sexual Assault: There appears to be disagreement between FRA and the Peace Corps on defining sexual assault. Peace Corps says it “recently revised its definitions for rape and sexual assault, based on feedback from nationally recognized experts, to assist with incident tracking and data analysis that inform training and programming improvements.” FRA acknowledges this revision, but says the agency maintains a two-tiered definition to categorize sexual assaults other than rape. They contend other key federal agencies have established a single definition for assaults other than rape. FRA believes the agency should similarly adopt this change.
- Training: Both sides note that volunteers and hundreds of Peace Corps staff have received various training related to sexual assault policies, procedures and support. FRA focuses on the need for more to be done, saying not all Country Directors and Peace Corps Medical Officers have been trained how to effectively respond to incidents of sexual assault. FRA also reports this training has not been extended to in-country staff in positions that often result in them serving as Acting Country Directors in times of transition. Peace Corps says it is committed to providing world-class training, adding that the comprehensive training and policies that have been designed and are being implemented incorporate best practices from top experts in the field.
- Office of Victim Advocacy: FRA praised the Peace Corps for providing the necessary resources for this new office. Along with a Senior Victim Advocate and one support staff, two Associate Victim Advocates are expected to be hired as early as this year.
Follow this link to Read First Response Action’s Report Card