Peace Corps Continues to Strengthen Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Work with Release of New Report
November 10, 2021
Today, the Peace Corps released a Sexual Assault Advisory Council (SAAC) report outlining recommendations for the agency to further strengthen its Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response (SARRR) program. In April, Acting Director Carol Spahn requested that the SAAC, an independent advisory council established by Congress, examine the group’s last five years of recommendations and provide updated guidance on how the agency can bolster its systems to mitigate risk of sexual assault and provide victim-centered and trauma-informed care to survivors.
“I am very grateful to the Sexual Assault Advisory Council members for their service. These leaders are at the cutting edge of their respective fields and have come forward at a time when we are called to help tackle an issue that is all too pervasive – both here in the United States and around the world,” said Spahn. “The Peace Corps is committed to being part of the solution and we stand ready to make the necessary changes and investments to improve our systems, ensure our structures support long-term progress and maintain transparency in the process.”
Given the need to adapt systems to the many unique cultural contexts in which Volunteers serve, an intra-agency team will complete a comprehensive analysis of the recommendations in the SAAC report, many of which are already underway, and will release a roadmap in early 2022. In the meantime, the Peace Corps continues to strengthen its staff capacities, internal systems, accountability measures and processes. In the spring of 2021, 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. To date, the agency has completed the following improvements:
- Implemented a new Security Incident Management System (SIMS) to better document, track and analyze the agency’s response to crimes against Volunteers, 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 are required to utilize the system and have been trained to fully leverage its functionality.
- Standardized the process for maintaining and using site history files and information stored in SIMS to require 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.
- 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 so that systems and processes are followed and all required files are complete and up-to-date.
- 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.
- Established a post-level case management process that instructs post staff to formally review, with an interdisciplinary team, every sexual assault case within two months of the case report. The process will identify challenges with every documented case and confirm all appropriate measures are followed and will serve as an opportunity for staff to assure victims’ needs are met, and systemic improvements are identified, in real time.
- Incorporated the ongoing improvement of the SARRR program into the agency’s four-year strategic plan with a measurable, specific performance goal dedicated to enhancing the program.
- Improved operating procedures for vetting and selecting host families to establish common standards that are consistently documented.
- Updated agency policy to bolster host family and counterpart orientations. This includes expanded guidance around unwanted attention, violence prevention and bystander intervention. To bolster procedural compliance, field-based Peace Corps Safety and Security Officers will review all orientations and incorporate any proposed modifications as requested by posts.
- Shared updates the agency has made to its systems, processes and procedures in a public e-newsletter, “Inside Peace Corps.” To date, three issues of the newsletter have been distributed to the Peace Corps network and posted online (Issue 1, Issue 2 and Issue 3). Any person interested in the work of the agency can subscribe to “Inside Peace Corps.”
- Closed sexual assault-related Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommendations,* including:
- IG-21-01-E – Recommendations 1 and 2
- IG-19-03-E – Recommendations 11 and 15
- IG-19-08-E – Recommendations 6 and 9
- IG-17-01-E – Recommendations 2, 16, 18 and 26
- IG-14-02-E – Recommendation 7
- IG-14-07-E – Recommendation 4 and 5
In addition to the SAAC report, the Peace Corps has retained the services of external consultants to examine the current structure of the SARRR program and to recommend the best staffing and organizational structure to move this work fundamentally forward.
“There is – and will be – more work to be done,” said Spahn. “We recognize our collective responsibility to help shift organizational, societal and intercultural norms around sexual violence while creating systems that best support survivors.”
*Due to their nature, there are some OIG recommendations that cannot be closed until Volunteers return to in-person service overseas.