Peace Corps Safety and Security – Archives
In early 2011, the element of safety and security drawing the most attention and calls for improvement center on physical and sexual assaults of Peace Corps volunteers, including the case of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was murdered in March, 2009. On May 11, 2011, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing
Follow this link for more background on the issue, and NPCA’s reaction.
Peace Corps Action
In his testimony, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams outlined fourteen steps that have been taken to address these issues. These steps include the following:
- The creation of a Victims Advocate position to coordinate victim support services.
- A March, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to collaborate and share resources on sexual assault prevention and response.
- Created the Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Panel – consisting of outside experts and former Volunteers who were victimized by sexual assault – to assist the agency with the design and implementation of the agency’s sexual assault risk reduction and response strategies.
- Formalized the agency’s existing practice of sending a Peace Corps staff member to be with the family of a fallen Volunteer within 24 hours of the notification of the Volunteer’s death (unless the family requests otherwise).
- Tasked the Deputy Director to lead a team that has visited overseas posts to gather Volunteer input on safety concerns and evaluate the effectiveness of the agency’s efforts to prevent crimes against Volunteers and support victims of crime.
Follow this link to read Director Williams’ written testimony.
- Director Williams testified that since 2010, Peace Corps has been developing new training materials on sexual assault prevention and response. A new online training (required for Volunteers prior to overseas departure) is scheduled to begin during the summer of 2011. Additional in-country training before and during service will follow.
- Hearing witnesses objected to a training video on volunteer safety which included interviews with three women whose assaults involved alcohol and who speak apologetically about their actions leading up to the assault. Director Williams said at the hearing that use of the video would end immediately.
- The Peace Corps Inspector General testified on the importance for Peace Corps and the State Department to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to define the roles and responsibilities of both agencies in support volunteer safety overseas. The IG said formalizing this relationship “is a critical step to improving the agency’s capacity to respond to security situations.” During the hearing, Director Williams said discussions with the State Department on this matter are underway and he hoped an agreement would be reached soon.
Calls for Further Action
Witnesses at the hearing raised additional calls for further improvements, including the following:
- Hearing witnesses all recommended that legislation is needed to institutionalize improvements, citing the transient nature of Peace Corps employment due to political appointments within the leadership and the five-year rule through many parts of the agency. Director Williams expressed a willingness to work Congress on legislation and noted that he is currently working with the office of Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on whistleblower protection legislation.
- While they praised the establishment of a Victims Advocate, witnesses said there is also a need for “mobile” advocates in the field, who can provide prompt response and support to sexual assault survivors.
- RAINN representative Jennifer Wilson Marsh further recommended the formation of a Sexual Assault Response Team – comprised of a victim advocate, law enforcement and medical examiner – designed to respond with an organized, coordinated response to meet the immediate and long term needs of the victim.
- Ensuring that a support network for assault survivors includes having an individual available to accompany and support a Volunteer traveling back to the United States following an assault.
- More support and assistance for survivors seeking workman’s compensation claims through the U.S. Department of Labor.
- The Inspector General noted that one of the most common safety and security issues identified during audits of country programs is the non-compliance of background security investigations or suitability checks on host country staff. The IG reported that 44 percent of the 63 posts audited since 2004 were not in compliance, and that since 2009 revisions (which includes short term contractors), 73 percent of the 15 posts audited were found to be non-compliant.
You can read the complete testimonies from the May 11, 2011 congressional hearing by following this link and scrolling down to the hearing “Peace Corps at 50”.
You can follow this link to read the recommendations of the RPCV group First Response Action.