The health, safety and security of Volunteers are Peace Corps’ highest priorities, and they underlie each and every aspect of the agency’s reform efforts over the last few years. Peace Corps has made extraordinary progress in establishing new policies and practices that reflect an absolute commitment to reducing risks for Volunteers and responding effectively and compassionately when crime does occur. There has been nothing short of a broad culture shift at Peace Corps, and the agency’s new approach is Volunteer-centered every step of the way.
Peace Corps has worked with leading experts to develop a comprehensive Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program, which includes more than 30 policy changes; extensive sexual assault risk reduction and response training for both volunteers and staff; and new, clearly defined procedures for mitigating and responding to sexual assault – all of which encourage volunteers to report incidents to the agency and seek out support. On September 1, 2013 – in just a few short weeks – critical elements of this program will go into effect, and Peace Corps will near full implementation of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act.
As part of this comprehensive new program, Volunteers have a new option for incident reporting, called restricted reporting, that enhances their privacy by limiting the number of parties with access to information about the assault to only those involved in providing support services volunteers request. Restricted reporting is designed to help Peace Corps reach volunteers who do not currently report sexual assault, and ensure they are safe and have access to support services. In addition, Peace Corps recently revised its definitions for rape and sexual assault, based on feedback from nationally recognized experts, to assist with incident tracking and data analysis that inform training and programming improvements. However, the agency’s definitions do not in any way dictate the care or services a volunteer receives in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Every Volunteer who reports a sexual assault of any kind – regardless of definition – has access to the full range of services Peace Corps provides. An updated whistleblower policy is also in effect to protect and support volunteers. This policy states that when volunteers make an allegation of wrongdoing, first and foremost their safety must be protected, concerns must be given serious consideration, and retaliation of any kind is strictly forbidden. Both Volunteers and staff have been trained on the new whistleblower policy.
While the agency cannot eliminate every risk that Volunteers face, the Peace Corps is committed to providing world-class training, guidance and support to every volunteer to ensure they remain safe, healthy and productive throughout their service.
Peace Corps shares the commitment of organizations like First Response Action to successful implementation of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, and the Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program not only meets but exceeds the requirements of the legislation, and reflects Peace Corps’ ironclad commitment to the physical and emotional wellbeing of every single Volunteer. The information from organizations like First Response Action unfortunately does not always reflect Peace Corps’ most recent progress. The agency has been working day in and day out on meaningful reforms, in collaboration with nationally recognized experts, including representatives from the Departments of Justice; the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network; and the newly formed Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Advisory Council. The comprehensive training and policies that have been designed and are currently being implemented incorporate best practices from top experts to ensure they have real impact.
Peace Corps has been working toward this over the last several years, and the agency is proud of the great progress that’s been made. Stay tuned for more updates as the important September 1 milestone approaches.