Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn Statement on USA Today Article
April 22, 2021
“USA Today recently published an article on sexual assault experienced by volunteers during their service. To those volunteers who have told their stories about sexual assault in the Peace Corps: I am so very sorry for the trauma you have experienced. You have each shown tremendous courage, and I am grateful that you have come forward.
“These are devastating stories, and the agency is working to get to the root of the very serious issues that were raised.
“As we approach the return to service of volunteers, we are intensifying and cementing our commitment to mitigating risk, wherever possible, and providing victim-centered and trauma-informed support to sexual assault survivors. We must always be an agency that empowers survivors and tears down barriers to reporting, services and care.
“As the new Acting Director of the agency and a returned volunteer myself, I am personally committed to ensuring the following systems are in place prior to the return of volunteers to service:
- A new Security Incident Management System (SIMS) will be launched to better document and analyze crimes. This system will provide a complete record of support and services provided to volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault.
- Data will be provided to applicants on country-specific health and safety information, including health and safety risks, volunteer satisfaction and early termination rates. Invitees who wish to be considered for a different posting after reviewing this data will be offered an alternative option, whenever possible.
- Site history procedures will be fully implemented and documented, including a review of past crime data, prior to placing any volunteers at that site.
- Procedures for vetting host families will be reinforced. And the required orientation on sexual assault and harassment for host families and counterparts will be bolstered.
“To ensure robust and systemic implementation of best practices, we will conduct an external review of the structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response (SARRR) Program to ensure that all of our policies and procedures are being properly followed. I have requested that the Sexual Assault Advisory Council (SAAC), a team of independent experts, review progress on all recommendations to the agency. We will make those findings public.
“Although Peace Corps has made improvements in our risk reduction, response and support programs over the last decade, these stories demonstrate that there is still work to be done.
“The Peace Corps remains committed to this vital work at every level within the agency.
“I have asked the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to review all the cases of sexual assault referenced in this article. I have also assigned a dedicated team at headquarters to review open OIG recommendations and take corrective action.
“If there are others who are willing to share their stories with us, we would like to hear from them. We invite and encourage survivors to submit information any time confidentially to the Office of Inspector General at OIG@peacecorpsoig.gov or to me personally at Director@peacecorps.gov. And anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence in the Peace Corps can contact the Office of Victim Advocacy, which is available 24 hours a day and can provide services and referrals. OVA can be reached by phone or text at 202-409-2704 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, the environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today’s global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans of all ages have served in 142 countries worldwide.
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The Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council was created by that Act. Initially, the proceedings of the Council were published. But, during the Trump Administration when RPCV Jody Olsen was Director, the decision was made not to publish the Council’s findings or recommendations.
The Inspector General of the Peace Corps has investigated the security, safety and health of Peace Corps Volunteers. I will post links to those reports.
My personal belief is the problem lies with the legal status of serving Volunteers. They are not civil service employees and thus do not have all the protections which civil service employees have. Peace Corps Volunteers serve at the pleasure of the President. That authority is delegated downward to all supervising employees, both in the United States and in Host Countries. I believe that leaving the implementation of these laws to the discretion of Host Country staff meansthat serving Volunteers do not have equal protection of the law, but rather are subject to the discretion of many different people. I believe the solution is not to make Volunteers “employees”, but to mandate that serving Volunteers have personal service contracts which specifically identifies rights and responsibilities
Firs Response Action was a group created by RPCVs who advocated for more protection for serving Volunteers more than ten years ago. They should be remembered for their advocacy work.
The Office of the Inspector General has one webpage devoted to follow up on the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Proction Act of 2011. Here are the reports and links : resources/”>https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/inspector-general/kate-puzey-act-resources/
This law requires the Peace Corps to:
Provide comprehensive sexual assault risk-reduction and response training to Volunteers
Develop and implement a comprehensive sexual assault policy
Establish an Office of Victim Advocacy and a sexual assault advisory council
Take other specified measures to enhance Volunteer safety and security and the Peace Corps’ response to victims of sexual assault
The Office of Inspector General is required to provide a series of reports to Congress that assesses the Peace Corps’ implementation of the Kate Puzey Act.
The following reports have already been issued by OIG:
Peace Corps Overseas Staffing
This November 2013 report assessed how overseas staff were hired, how Volunteer feedback was considered at posts, and how performance plans mandated by the Kate Puzey act have been implemented.
Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Policy
This November 2013 report assessed the progress the Peace Corps had made toward instituting a sexual assault policy.
Peace Corps Sexual Assault Risk-Reduction and Response Training
This November 2013 report assessed the progress the Peace Corps had made in training Volunteers about sexual assault risk reduction and response.
Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program
This November 2016 report contains OIG’s evaluation of the effectiveness and implementation of the training and policy, in addition to a review of a statistically significant number of sexual assault cases.
Biennial reports to Congress on Volunteer allegations about staff
The Kate Puzey Act mandates that every two years, OIG provide compiled reports on complaints and allegations we have received from Volunteers about staff misconduct, mismanagement, and breaches of Volunteer confidentiality, as well as what actions were taken to assure the safety of the Volunteers who make those reports.
November 2012 Biennial Report
November 2014 Biennial Report
November 2016 Biennial Report
Biennial reports to Congress on Volunteer allegations about staff
November 2018 Biennial Report
Related reports and links
OIG has issued other reports that were not mandated by the Kate Puzey Act, but which are related to the Peace Corps response to sexual assault:
Review of the Peace Corps’ Implementation of Guidelines Related to Volunteer Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault
This September 2012 report assessed the Peace Corps’ response to victims of sexual assault.
Management Advisory Report: Agency Policies Related to Volunteer Sexual Assault Allegations
This November 2014 report advises the Peace Corps of concerns the OIG identified during an investigation of a Volunteer on Volunteer sexual assault.
Interim Update: Murder of Kate Puzey
This update from the Office of Inspector General’s Semiannual Report to Congress for October 2016 to March 2017 summarizes the results of the February 2017 trial in Benin.
I have accessed the USA Today web site to read the referenced article … however I was required to pay to subscribe to USA Today in order to access the article … I am not interested in a subscription. Would it be possible for PEACE CORPS WORLDWIDE to cut-and-paste the article into this thread so it could be readily accessed? Thank you.
We now have posted the article. You should be able to readi it. If there are any problems, please let us know.
I googled the title of the article and a link came up. I was able to use it and read the article. I will post the link, here. I will check to see if it is possible to copy and post the entire article, here. Please let me know if the link does not work for you.
Here is the link:https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2021/04/22/sexual-assault-peace-corps-volunteers-betrayed-violated/6804425002/
Clicking your link … here is a bit of what I get…
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I am so sorry for the problem. I did not find a paywall when I googled and found it and was able to read it. However, the article is now posted here, on Peace Corps WorldWide. Were you able to read it, here.
Joanne, since you asked …. I am sure it is just me and my cookies, but in every case when I click on the link for the article, I get the same money, money, money response … for the link as well in the fine article bi NPCA’s Maricarmen Smith-Martinez. No big deal because I was able to read the referenced article when you posted it via the cut-and-paste method. Many thanks for your effort.
Other people had exactly the same problem you did and that it why the decision was to copy and print it here. It is an important article. I really am sorry about the original confusion.
I am not a subscriber to USAToday and I don’t know how I was able to access it without a problem. We live in Colorado and subscribe to national papers to kept informed, but I don’t know of any links between those papers and USA Today. The only time I ever saw the paper is when it would be delivered to a motel or hotel in the morning.
I did email Director Spahn and ask her to publish a link to the article so that the public would know what the investigation is all about. I never got a reply. It is very easy to email someone at Peace Corps…first initial, full last name at Peace Corps. gov. NPCA’s article has a link which I could access, but I don’t know if it works for everyone.