Peace Corps Strengthens Sexual Assault Reduction and Response Efforts

 

October 8, 2021

WASHINGTON – Today, the Peace Corps provided an update on the agency’s progress to strengthen its volunteer safety, and sexual assault risk reduction and response efforts over the last six months.

“When I stepped into the role of Acting Director, I called for all Peace Corps staff to examine how our agency can better meet our service commitments to both volunteers and the community members we work alongside,” said Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn. “This deep, structural work involves upgrading all of our systems, including and especially those related to sexual assault risk reduction and response. Peace Corps staff care deeply about the safety of our volunteers and, as an agency, we are continuously learning, wholeheartedly dedicated to reducing risk, wherever possible, and committed to providing victim-centered, trauma-informed care.”

In the spring, the Peace Corps committed to making specific, systemic improvements to sexual-assault-related policies and procedures prior to volunteers’ return to in-person service overseas. Today, the agency confirmed that it has fulfilled the pledges made in April and May:

  • Implemented a new Security Management System (SIMS) to better document, track and analyze the agency’s response to crimes, including sexual assaults. Through SIMS, staff will categorize crimes, record support services provided to volunteer victims of crime and monitor related criminal proceedings. All regions and offices required to use the system have been trained on it.
  • Made publicly available country-specific health, safety, volunteer satisfaction and early termination information. Data regarding these topics can be found on individual post webpages. After reviewing this information, invitees will have an opportunity to request consideration for another country placement.
  • Standardized the process for maintaining and using site history files and information stored in SIMS to ensure that all safety and security incidents that occur at a volunteer’s site are documented and reviewed prior to future volunteers being placed at that specific site. In addition, Country Directors will attest that all sites have been reviewed and properly vetted for security incidents. The agency is also creating a Quality Assurance Specialist position at each post to oversee the collection, filing and review of all site management and site history file documents to ensure that systems and processes are followed and all required files are complete and up-to-date.
  • Improved standardized operating procedures for vetting and selecting host families to ensure that this vetting occurs in a systematic and consistently documented manner.
  • Updated safety and security instructions to bolster host family and counterpart orientations. This includes expanded guidance around unwanted attention, violence prevention and bystander intervention. To ensure procedural compliance, field-based Peace Corps Safety and Security Officers will review all orientations, and incorporate any proposed modifications as requested by posts.
  • Requested that the Sexual Assault Advisory Council (SAAC) – an independent team of subject-matter experts and former volunteers responsible for reviewing the Peace Corps’ policies and procedures related to sexual assault risk reduction and response – review and provide guidance on the progress made toward SAAC recommendations from the last five years. The SAAC will submit its report, which will be made publicly available, before the end of the year.
  • Selected an external firm to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the overall effectiveness of the SARRR program and its structure. The firm will present its findings to the agency in Spring 2022.
  • Shared updates the agency has made to its systems, processes and procedures in a public e-newsletter, Inside Peace Corps. To date, two issues of the newsletter have been distributed to the Peace Corps network and posted online (Issue 1 and Issue 2). Any person interested in the work of the agency can subscribe to Inside Peace Corps.
  • Closed sexual assault-related Peace Corps OIG recommendations,* including:
    • IG-19-08-E – Recommendations 6 and 9
    • IG-17-01-E – Recommendations 2, 16, and 26
    • IG-14-02-E – Recommendation 7
    • IG-14-07-E – Recommendation 4
  • Established a post-level case management process that ensures post staff formally review sexual assault cases and identify challenges with every documented case and confirm all appropriate measures are followed. This process will serve as an opportunity for staff to assure victims’ needs are met in real time.

“We are dedicated to continual and sustained improvement. As an agency, we strive to facilitate a positive Peace Corps experience for our volunteers, staff, host country partners, counterparts and all members of our network,” said Spahn. “Our focus is continued progress and improved transparency with the public.”

*Due to their nature, there are some OIG recommendations that cannot be closed until Volunteers return to in-person service overseas.

Returned volunteers who have been impacted by sexual violence, or any crime while serving in the Peace Corps, can contact the Office of Victim Advocacy (OVA), which is available 24 hours a day and can provide confidential services and referrals, by phone or text at 202-409-2704 and email at victimadvocate@peacecorps.gov. All Peace Corps staff members are required to immediately notify OVA when outreach relates to sexual assault.

One Comment

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  • I wish Acting Director Spahn and her staff well. This is the 10th Anniversary of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act which was designed to accomplish precisely what is being outlined here. There have been problems over the the past ten years not in formulating policy, but implementing it. Training new staff, particularly overseas staff, and follow up were some of the problems identified by the Office of the Inspector General.

    I believe until the legal status of Volunteers is changed so that they have a contract spelling out their rights, as well as their responsibilities, that problems will persist. Contracts would give serving Volunteers legal power beyond total dependence on the administrative staff.

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