FRA Releases First Report Card Assessing Peace Corps’  Implementation of Kate Puzey Act

Report Highlights Gaps, Calls on Peace Corps To Promptly and Fully Implement the Law,
and Expresses Concerns With Peace Corps’ Outdated Sexual Assault Definitions
and Lack of Robust Whistleblower Program

July 31, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Casey Frazee (513-518-4936); Karestan Koenen (646-765-8992); Madhu Chugh (202-663-6529)

WASHINGTON - First Response Action (FRA) released its first report card today assessing the Peace Corps’ progress in implementing the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, the law passed by Congress in November 2011 to ensure that volunteers serving abroad have access to the care, support, and resources they need to recover from a sexual assault.  Assigning an overall grade of “C,” FRA found major gaps in Peace Corps’ compliance with the law.  According to Peace Corps’ own 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey Results, crimes of sexual assault committed against volunteers remain a major challenge for the agency, with one in eight volunteers reporting a sexual assault in 2012-a noticeable jump from previous years.

“Peace Corps volunteers have made an extraordinary commitment to the United States and to the countries they serve.  They deserve a commitment from Peace Corps that it is doing everything in its power to make sure volunteers are safe and that they can receive adequate care and assistance if they are sexually assaulted,” said Casey Frazee, Director of First Response Action and a former Peace Corps volunteer who was sexually assaulted during her service in South Africa.

FRA assigned an overall grade of “C” to Peace Corps’ implementation efforts by assessing its work and assigning grades in four key areas.  Significant findings include:

Policies (D)

  • Peace Corps continues to use outdated, tiered definitions of sexual assault — “aggravated sexual assault” and “sexual assault”— that rely on the use of force as one of the elements to differentiate between the two.
  • Peace Corps has not implemented a robust whistleblower protection program.

Training (C)

  • Peace Corps has been slow in making sure that all key responders on the ground are adequately trained to respond to an incident of sexual assault.
  • Some acting Country Directors do not feel prepared to respond to an incident of sexual assault.

In-Country Response (C)

  • Peace Corps has made slow progress in creating a confidential reporting system, especially when 50% of all sexual assault victims said in 2012 that they did not report their assaults (including rape) to Peace Corps.
  • Peace Corps had no policy or support structure dedicated to responding to volunteers who, before the recent proposed revisions to the sexual assault definitions, experienced “other sexual assaults.”  Peace Corps now categorizes these assaults as “sexual assaults” and still has no dedicated policy in place.

Return Response (B-)

  • FRA commends Peace Corps for giving volunteers who have been sexually assaulted the option of being medically evacuated and for establishing the Office of Victim Advocacy.
  • Peace Corps should provide more information to volunteers about mental health counseling options.

“Every year, hundreds of American women are sexually assaulted abroad during their Peace Corps service,” said Karestan Koenen, a former Peace Corps volunteer who was raped while serving in Niger.  Koenen is now a professor at Columbia University and President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.  Added Koenen: “Passing the Kate Puzey Act was an important first step, and fully and promptly implementing the law is the next step.  There is no reason Peace Corps should be so far behind more than 18 months after Congress passed the law.”

Added Frazee: “FRA looks forward to hearing from Carrie Hessler-Radelet during her upcoming nomination hearing about Peace Corps’ action plan for fully implementing the Kate Puzey Act as soon as possible.”

Implementation of the Kate Puzey Act is necessary to ensure a safer, stronger Peace Corps for current and future volunteers.  FRA is issuing the report card to help the public, Peace Corps officials, the Obama Administration, Senate and House Members and their staffs, Peace Corps volunteers, and other stakeholders understand the status of Peace Corps’ efforts to implement the Kate Puzey Act.  FRA will continue providing periodic updates to the public until all Peace Corps volunteers receive the care, support, and protection they deserve under the Kate Puzey Act.

First Response Action is an initiative led by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) working to support all volunteers who are survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes.  For more information, visit FRA’s website at FirstResponseAction.org.