It was a cold, snowy day in Washington, D.C. when four members of the First Response Action Coalition, the volunteer board which manges First Response Action, met with Peace Corps officials at Peace Corps’ headquarters. Representatives from the Office of Medical Services, Safety & Security and the Office of Special Services were in attendance as well as the Chief of Staff, Deputy Director and an official whose position is focused on examining Volunteer and staff sexual assault training during Pre-Service Training(PST) and beyond.
Casey Frazee, Karen Moldovan, Kate Finn and Jess Smochek met with Peace Corps officials to discuss the genesis of First Response Action and the current and ongoing need for policy, training, response and treatment reform. Peace Corps was apologetic to the survivors on the Coalition and the other women and men who have survived trauma and were not well-treated by Peace Corps officials.
While Casey and Jess focused on the human cost of the lack of consistency with current protocols, Karen, with her background as the Program Manager at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, focused on best practices in the field and models to work with survivors. Kate outlined resources available to Peace Corps and discussed items that would strengthen survivor support resources, such as a non-Peace Corps staff advisory committee and the review of training and support materials by best-practice agencies in the field.
Peace Corps briefed the Coalition members on their current changes in training and response to survivors. (Coalition Note: Specifics on treatment and follow-up were not discussed due to time constraints, but this is high on the priority list in follow-up conversations.)
Highlights from Peace Corps’ updates include:
- An updated handbook to replace the circa 1996 – 2004 ‘Rape Response Handbook’ is anticipated to be approved and ready to be distributed during the first quarter of 2011.
- A version of the Survivor Bill of Rights, outlining Peace Corps’ commitment to Volunteers who are survivors of assault and rape is also expected to be approved and released in the first quarter of 2011.
- Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) and Regional Security Officers (RSOs) are receiving more training and are being more rigorously managed. RSOs now need to have increased certification to serve in their positions.
- Peace Corps is consulting with other agencies on how to improve training, including the Office of Violence Against Women, the Dept. of Defense, the FBI and the American Foreign Service, among others.
The meeting closed with a commitment from Peace Corps that a designated staff member and First Response Action founder Casey Frazee will keep in contact. Peace Corps made a commitment to share the approved materials (survivor bill of rights, updated handbook, etc.) with First Response Action. Peace Corps also asked First Response Action to provide a resource list of agencies and individuals who could be catalysts for change in the development of improved protocol for sexual assault and rape.
Peace Corps officials at the meeting appeared to be engaged and committed to Volunteer safety and security.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Coalition member Karen about the tone of the Peace Corps meeting and commitment to continue a working relationship.
The work has only just begun.
[First Response Action advocates for a stronger Peace Corps response for Volunteers who are survivors or victims of physical and sexual violence. We envision a Peace Corps with policies that reflect best practices in all areas of training, prevention and response. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org]