In November 2011, Congress enacted the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act to ensure that volunteers serving abroad can access the care, support, and resources they need to prevent, respond to, or recover from a sexual assault. Since the passage of the law, First Response Action has closely monitored Peace Corps’ implementation efforts to make sure it is creating a volunteer-centered program as envisioned by the law. Relying on information provided by the Peace Corps and reports issued by federal agencies, First Response Action presents its first “report card” assessing the agency’s work thus far.
First Response Action applauds Peace Corps’ progress in a few key areas. Indeed, 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. According to the Peace Corps’ own 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey Results, one in eight volunteers reported being sexually assaulted in 2012-a jump in sexual assault rates from previous years.1 Thus, the prompt and full implementation of the law is necessary to ensure a safer, stronger Peace Corps for current and future volunteers.
Peace Corps Continues to Use Outdated, Narrow Definitions of Sexual Assault. Experts agree that the success of sexual assault programs and policies turns on how a victim’s sexual assault experience is defined. Unfortunately, Peace Corps recently proposed revised definitions — “aggravated sexual assault” and “sexual assault” — that maintain its two-tiered approach to defining sexual assault, unlike other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the FBI, which use only one definition of sexual assault.2 Peace Corps’ inconsistent sexual assault definitions therefore undermine the administration’s ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the number of sexual assault incidents across federal agencies. In addition, Peace Corps still relies on the use of force as one of the elements to differentiate between an “aggravated sexual assault” and “sexual assault.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on the other hand, has revised the FBI’s definitions of rape and assault to remove the requirement of force, and the Department of Defense uses one standardized definition to capture all instances of sexual violence without requiring force as an element.3 First Response Action calls on Peace Corps to follow suit and establish a single definition of sexual assault to capture all sexual offenses other than rape committed against a volunteer.
Peace Corps Has Moved Very Slowly in Creating a New Whistleblower Protection Program. One of the hallmark requirements of the Kate Puzey Act is the creation of a new whistleblower protection program, which would protect the safety and identity of a volunteer who reports allegations of misconduct or mismanagement committed by Peace Corps staff. Unfortunately, Peace Corps has made little progress in getting such a program off the ground, which is particularly troubling given that Ms. Puzey was murdered because the agency failed to protect her identify after she reported that a Peace Corps contractor had been sexually assaulting young women in the school where Ms. Puzey taught.4 The agency finally updated its whistleblower policy in May 2013-even though it has had more than 18 months to complete its work.5 Unfortunately, Peace Corps provides few specifics on how it plans to implement the policy. FRA calls on Peace Corps to ensure that its whistleblower policy provides volunteers robust protections, to disseminate the policy to volunteers so they know their options for reporting and their rights in the face of retaliation, and to train staff on the new policy as soon as possible so they know how to protect volunteers who report misconduct.
Some Key Responders Have Not Been Trained. Not all Country Directors (CDs) and Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) have been trained on the Response Guidelines: Guidance for Staff to Provide Compassionate and Timely Support, which “serve[s] as the game plan by which post[s] will provide timely and effective response, especially in the first crucial hours after the incident is reported.”6 In addition, not all staff who play a role in responding to incidents of sexual assault-including staff in the Office of Volunteer Support, Office of Medical Services, and Office of General Counsel-have been trained on the Response Guidelines.7 Peace Corps reports that it has made some progress by recently rolling out an online training program which is now mandatory for all first responders.8
Some Acting Country Directors Do Not Feel Prepared to Respond. Peace Corps has not provided sexual assault response training to staff who routinely serve as acting Country Directors, such as Directors of Management Operations and Directors of Programming and Training.9 As a result, some staff who have served as an acting Country Director said in interviews conducted by the Peace Corps’ Inspector General’s Office that “they did not feel fully prepared to respond to sexual assault incidents while serving as acting CD.”10
Not All Staff Have Received Training Mandated By The Kate Puzey Act. Peace Corps has not finished drafting its comprehensive sexual assault policy requiring that all staff be trained.11 Accordingly, some Country Directors have not trained all of their staff, as required by the Kate Puzey Act,12 and instead have selected certain staff to be trained.13 Indeed, Peace Corps’ Inspector General has recommended that all posts hold sexual assault training sessions for all staff annually and periodic first responder refresher sessions.14 Peace Corps has made some progress, however. It reports that more than 1,500 overseas and headquarters staff have completed online sexual assault awareness and victim sensitivity training.15 In addition, trainees’ results are being analyzed to measure changes in attitudes.16
IN-COUNTRY RESPONSE: C
No Policy or Support Structure for Victims of “Other Sexual Assaults.” Peace Corps has had no policy dedicated to responding to volunteers who, before the recent proposed revisions to the sexual assault definitions, have experienced “other sexual assaults”- assaults that, according to the Peace Corps, involve “[u]nwanted or forced kissing, fondling, and/or groping” of a victim.17 Accordingly, some victims received little or no follow-up by Peace Corps staff, partly because the Response Guidelines provide no instructions for offering medical, legal, or safety and security support to these victims.18 In fact, the Inspector General found that Peace Corps’ refusal to respond to victims of “other sexual assaults” has led, in some instances, to escalating harassment by perpetrators.19
Slow Progress on Creating Confidential Reporting System. The Kate Puzey Act requires Peace Corps to establish a mechanism for volunteers to report the details of a sexual assault while maintaining their confidentiality so a limited number of staff know identifying information about a victim.20 According to Peace Corps officials, the agency’s Senior Policy Committee approved the restricted reporting policy on March 13, 2013-18 months after the passage of the Kate Puzey Act.21 Staff in Africa, Asia, and Central America will be trained on this new policy between June and August 2013, after which the reporting system will be implemented in those areas. There are no plans yet to roll out the policy agency-wide,22 although the agency hopes to finalize a permanent policy by 2014.23 A confidential reporting system is critical to encouraging volunteers to report. Indeed, 50% of all sexual assault victims, including those who have been raped, said in 2012 that they did not report their assaults to the Peace Corps.24 Greater urgency is needed.
Sexual Assault Response Liaison Program in the Process of Being Implemented. The Kate Puzey Act requires the Peace Corps to establish a Sexual Assault Response Liaison (SARL) program, which will identify liaisons to respond to reports of sexual assault, including helping sexual assault victims navigate their in-country response systems and making sure that victims are moved to a safe place after being assaulted.25 The Senior Policy Committee approved a SARL policy on March 13, 2013, SARLs have been selected for posts, and Peace Corps hopes to fully deploy the SARL program in the field in September 2013.26
24-Hour Reporting Hotline in Pilot Phase. Congress directed the agency to provide a 24hour sexual assault hotline so volunteers can anonymously report incidents of sexual assault, obtain counseling if they have been assaulted, and learn about other resources that might be available to assist in their recovery.27 On February 15, 2013, Peace Corps launched a six-month pilot hotline in seven countries.28 It intends to deliver a full-scale, global hotline in the fall of 2013.29
RETURN RESPONSE: B-
Volunteers Who Have Been Sexually Assaulted May Be Medically Evacuated. Volunteers who have been sexually assaulted have the option of being medically evacuated from their post either to the victim’s home or to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, DC.
They also may request that a member of the Peace Corps staff accompany them to the United States. In addition, a Peace Corps staff member or representative will meet volunteers evacuated to Washington, DC at the airport.30 FRA applauds Peace Corps’ progress on this front.
Office of Victim Advocacy Has Been Established. Peace Corps has created the Office of Victim Advocacy, which helps volunteers receive medical and other types of support in the aftermath of a sexual assault.31 Peace Corps has hired a Senior Victim Advocate and a support staffer. The agency intends to hire two Associate Victim Advocates in 2013.32 FRA thanks Peace Corps for the commitment and resources it has invested in the new office.
Peace Corps Should Provide More Information About Counseling Options. Although Peace Corps provides volunteers some information about counseling options, experts believe that the agency should offer more guidance about how volunteers can obtain mental health care,33 including helping Returned Peace Corps Volunteers’ (RPCVs) locate counselors who accept workers’ compensation benefits so treatment is more affordable. These same experts have also suggested that Peace Corps staff-including PCMOs, staff in the Office of Victim Advocacy, and Counseling and Outreach Unit officers-improve the language they use to discuss counseling options with volunteers.34
Peace Corps Is Not Verifying Volunteers’ Access to or the Quality of Their Medical Benefits.35 According to the GAO, Peace Corps is not taking steps to monitor RPCVs’ access to benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) or the quality of those benefits.36 For example, Peace Corps has not determined whether there is a gap in the number and geographic location of mental health providers-even though RPCVs most often seek medical care for mental health ailments, as compared to other types of ailments afflicting RPCVs.37 In addition, Peace Corps is not assessing volunteers’ knowledge of application requirements, such as the medical documentation that must be submitted with a FECA application. Peace Corps therefore may not be aware of the extent to which volunteers are having problems navigating the system and obtaining FECA benefits.38
First Response Action hopes that this report will 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. First Response Action applauds the steps Peace Corps has taken and recognizes the significant work that remains to be completed on an urgent basis. We are committed to making sure that Peace Corps receives the attention and resources it needs from Congress and the Obama Administration so it can fully and effectively implement the Act. First Response Action will continue monitoring the agency’s implementation efforts and providing periodic updates to the public on the agency’s progress until all Peace Corps volunteers receive the care, support, and protection they deserve under the Kate Puzey Act.
1 Peace Corps, 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey Results, at 38 (May 2013), available at http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/2012_Annual_Volunteer_Survey.pdf.
2 Amanda Terkel, Eric Holder Expands FBI’s Narrow, Outdated Definition of Rape, Huffington Post (Jan. 6, 2012), available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/eric-holder-fbi-rape_n_1189145.html; Department of Defense, Directive No. 6495.01, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, at 17 (Jan. 23, 2012), available at http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/649501p.pdf.
4 ABC News, Why Would Anyone Kill Kate? (Jan. 14, 2011), available at http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/kill-kate-murder-peace-corps-coverup-death-murder-victim-family-2020-12621143.
5 Peace Corps, Progress in Implementation of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, at 4-5 (Mar. 2013) (”Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation”).
6 Kathy A. Buller, Peace Corps Office of Inspector General, Final Report on the Review of the Peace Corps’ Implementation of Guidelines Related to Volunteer Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault, at 8, 26, 27 (Sept. 27, 2012) (”OIG Report”).
7 Id. at 28.
8 Conference Call with Anthony Marra and Chai Shenoy, Office of the General Counsel, Peace Corps (May 1, 2013).
9 Id. at 27.
11 Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Advisory Council, Annual Report¸ at 40 (Nov. 21, 2012) (”Council Report”).
12 22 U.S.C. § 2507b(d).
13 OIG Report at 13.
14 Id. at 14.
15 Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 2.
16 Peace Corps, Timeline: Peace Corps Progress on Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act & the Global Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program, at 2.
17 Peace Corps, Statistical Report of Crimes Against Volunteers 2011, at 3 (Nov. 2012).
18 OIG Report at 19-20.
20 22 U.S.C. § 2507b(a)(1); 22 U.S.C. § 2507a(f)(2).
21 Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 3.
23 Council Report at 8.
24 Peace Corps, 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey Results, 38 (May 2013), available at http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/2012_Annual_Volunteer_Survey.pdf.
25 22 U.S.C. § 2507b(a)(2); Council Report at 8, 24.
26 Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 3.
27 22 U.S.C. § 2507a(e)(3).
28 Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 3; Conference Call with Anthony Marra and Chai Shenoy, Office of the General Counsel, Peace Corps (May 1, 2013).
30 Council Report at 38; Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 3-4; 22 U.S.C. § 2507b(c)(7).
31 22 U.S.C. § 2507c(b)(1).
32 Peace Corps’ Summary of Implementation at 4.
33 Council Report at 8, 35, 37.
34 Id. at 36.
35 A Peace Corps volunteer who suffers an injury as a result of her service may be reimbursed for medical expenses under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). Peace Corps must inform volunteers of benefits for which they may be eligible and help them navigate the application process, while the Department of Labor administers the FECA program. General Accounting Office, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers: Labor and Peace Corps Need Joint Approach to Monitor Access to and Quality of Health Care Benefits, at 1-2 (Nov. 2012) (”GAO Report”). 36 Id. at 18-19.
37 Id. at 18.
38 Id. at 14.