Annual Report of the Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council

The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 mandated that a Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council be created to evaluate the progress the agency was making on implementing that legislation.The report is made to the President, the Chair, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Chair, House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Report was delivered on October 28, 2015. It covers the period Fiscal 2014 to Fiscal 2015. The report addresses many issues that were publicized recently. It is now available online at the Peace Corps’s official website. The Executive Summary is copied below.

  • “EXECUTIVE SUMMARYIn the years since the Kate Puzey Act was passed, the Peace Corps has worked diligently and meticulously to implement a new Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program (SARRR) that raises the bar on support and services that are provided to Volunteer victims. The Peace Corps recognized the need for change and wholeheartedly embraced that concept. From 2011 to 2013, they assessed, discussed and planned for improvements. On September 1, 2013, the Peace Corps formally launched the program, rolling out new policies, procedures, staff responsibilities and training for both Volunteers and staff. Restricted reporting became an option for Volunteers, as well as access to a Sexual Assault Response Liaison (SARL). All of these programs were developed with the intent to improve collaboration, response and the overall experience of Volunteers who had experienced the worst.

    However, it has not been easy. As seen with local Sexual Assault Response Teams, that level of expansion does not happen quickly without growing pains. At this point, the Peace Corps faces the same challenge shared by many organizations that seek to shift from a series of sound policies and programs to an institutional culture which weaves the underlying concepts throughout its organizational endeavors. In general, the Council simply noted that the volume of new services and policies created some confusion; moving forward, Peace Corps needs to tighten up training and streamline policies to ensure a beneficial impact for all.

    While the nexus behind this report is to fulfill the Council’s mandated requirement to Congress, the process itself has become vitally important to all. Through the information sharing phase, Council members question, discuss and debate policies and programs that can be successful in this complex environment in which the Peace Corps exists. The opinions of experts, with both domestic and international backgrounds, provide a framework for a rich exploration of new ideas and approaches. However, it is equally important to note that the Council views a snap-shot of the big picture, reviewing areas that are often in flux and still growing. Given the timeframe, the Council will always be challenged with understanding how components fit into the large and overarching response. The 2015 Summary of Findings is as follows:

    Promoting and Supporting Institutional Change

    In 2015, the Council found that, while the Peace Corps has a strong mission statement, they do not in fact have an organizational “values” statement which can serve as a overarching guide for staff on how to do business. To that end, the Peace Corps should align its values across the Agency to reflect a focus by leadership, staff and Volunteers on sexual assault prevention and response. The Council also found that elements of the Kate Puzey Act have not yet been included in the five-year Agency Strategic Plan. Moving forward, the Council built a series of recommendations to help guide the Peace Corps on these efforts. To additionally help build awareness and support for the institutionalization of its sexual assault efforts, the Council recommends the Peace Corps create a “forward leaning” communications plan. This will allow Peace Corps staff at all levels to understand and communicate items which are vital to all.

    Policy and Training

    This year, the Council had a number of new members who brought a fresh outlook to the policy and training efforts of the Peace Corps. The overall finding by these members was that Peace Corps should continue to refine their policies to ensure they are victim centered and trauma informed. Quite simply, all staff must understand trauma; equally important is the need for Volunteer victims to be heard throughout all stages of the response process, post-assault. In the past year, the Peace Corps has experienced its own ups and downs, working to identify what programs and policies are having their intended result, and which are, in some cases ever so slightly, missing the mark. Specific areas for consideration include policies or directives that might trigger an unwanted investigative response or compromise reporting

    Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council Annual Report 2015 Options

    In addition, the Council strengthened our recommendation to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual,

    and transgender issues are appropriately addressed throughout all aspects of service and training.

    Prevention and Collaboration

    In reviewing the prevention efforts of the Peace Corps and the SARRR Program, the Council found that while individual prevention efforts are being made, often through training, they lack a truly coordinated effort. To that end, Peace Corps should create a comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy; in doing so, they should identify and address risk and protective factors for sexual assault. The Council also encouraged the Peace Corps to develop a pilot for multi-national collaboration with the intent of leveraging existing resources and services which might already be available in its operating regions. This collaboration could help Peace Corps become an example of improved service delivery worldwide.

    Medical and Mental Health

    To advance progress in the area of medical and mental health, Peace Corps should consider several recommendations which will expand support to victims as well as the overall Peace Corps staff. The Council found that some programs/trainings in place to support the medical and mental health efforts had been developed for a domestic audience, and weren’t taking into account the challenges and complexities of the Peace Corps system. As a result, the Council recommends creation of a specific training curriculum for the Peace Corps medical officers that addresses the needs of Volunteers when both evidence collection and treatment options are inconsistent at a local level. The Council also found the use of telemedicine was yet to be considered as a viable option; a pilot project to explore this technology could have a positive and lasting impact on victim services. The Council also found a missing component in that victims did not receive information after an assault via “hard copy” but instead in conversation. A number of recommendations support the tightening up of service delivery to ensure victims are getting what they need.

    Monitoring and Evaluation

    Given the time frames on the Monitoring and Evaluation process, it was difficult for the Council to review any of the outcomes based on the new policies (since the first year evaluation period concluded after the Council meetings.) Instead, the Council focused on reviewing the overall policies guiding the monitoring and evaluation process. Recommendations include: continuing to transform the agency into a trauma-informed organization and developing indicators to determine if this shift is occurring. To aid in its monitoring and evaluation efforts, Peace Corps should improve and streamline data collection and management. Finally, since some analysis will require access to personally identifiable information, Peace Corps monitoring and evaluation staff should be granted appropriate access to that data.

    Informal Recommendations

    With the many discussions and ideas generated by the Council, it is important to note that some observations did not rise to the level of a formal “recommendation” and have not been included as a part of this report. The Council instead provided “informal recommendations” to staff both through collaborative meetings as well as in a summary document to the Team Lead for the SARRR Program. In addition, the Council is providing considerations for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), to support their office in this important process. It is hoped that this can be a tool to assist as the OIG engages in their review of Peace Corps programs beginning in late 2015.

    Congressional Recommendations

    In addition to recommendations for the Peace Corps as a whole, the Council wanted to flag specific and pertinent issues for our Congressional leaders who impact the Peace Corps and its ability to provide cohesive services.

    • Congress should consider revisiting the legislative restrictions that limit a Volunteer’s ability to access post-service healthcare, including mental health counseling after separation of service.
    • Congress should consider authorizing funding to support the efforts of Peace Corps to implement these new policies, programs and training. This would include specific funding to support the Peace Corps efforts to expand the use of a telemedicine program, with a pilot program rolled out over the next 3-5 years.
    • Congress should consider supporting the efforts of the Council and Peace Corps staff to evaluate the future of the Council beyond the five-year mandate in 2017.”

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