Statement from Director Aaron S. Williams on the Peace Corps Commitment to the Health and Safety of Volunteers
The health and safety of Peace Corps volunteers is the single most important priority of the agency. We recognize that the Peace Corps response to volunteers victimized by crime has not always met the needs of volunteers or reflected the compassionate culture of our community. I offer our sincere apologies to the volunteers who were let down by the agency. We are implementing numerous reforms to better protect our volunteers and provide effective and compassionate support. We remain committed to working with our community and Congress to institute these health and safety reforms and further strengthen our program.
Our policy reforms are based on an unwavering commitment to the safety, health and support of our volunteers. Everyone in the Peace Corps community has a voice, and I am grateful to the volunteers and their families who are working with us to improve our systems. While the Peace Corps cannot eliminate every risk volunteers face during their service, I am committed to making sure that we do everything we can to provide a safe working environment for volunteers, as well as effective and compassionate support when one is victimized by crime.
We manage and review emergency response procedures that provide for teams of specialists from the medical, mental health, security, and legal fields to assist and support volunteers both overseas and here at home. These procedures are in place to ensure prompt support throughout the recovery process and I am dedicated to making sure that our policies are implemented and being followed at headquarters and in every country where Peace Corps volunteers serve.
Under the direction of Director Williams, the Peace Corps has implemented a number of steps to strengthen crime prevention and support systems.
- Peace Corps Commitment to Sexual Assault Victims establishes core principles for providing timely and compassionate support to victims of sexual assault. All staff members around the world are expected to treat volunteers with dignity and respect. No one deserves to be a victim of sexual assault. (Issued in January, 2011)
- Peace Corps instituted revised Guidelines for Responding to Rape and Sexual Assault that outline our victim-centered approach and the specific procedures posts must follow in order to respond promptly to an incident and provide proper support to a victim. The Peace Corps has trained all first responder staff on the new guidelines. (Issued in February, 2011; training provided in March, 2011)
- Peace Corps first ever victim advocate is a nationally-recognized leader in victims rights. Victims of crime can now turn to a skilled and experienced Peace Corps staff member dedicated to making certain volunteers receive the emotional, medical, legal, and other support they need both during and after their service. (May, 2011)
- Peace Corps established the Peace Corps Sexual Assault Panel, made up of outside experts and former volunteers who were victims of crime. (July, 2011)
- The technical guidelines for the clinical management of rape and sexual assault have been revised to comply with the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations. (August, 2011)
- Peace Corps developed comprehensive new training materials for volunteers on Sexual Assault Awareness, Risk Reduction Strategies, Peace Corps Reporting and Response Protocols, and Bystander Intervention. (Training developed August, 2011)
- Based on recommendations made by the Office of Inspector General, the agency has strengthened the Office of Safety and Security at headquarters to oversee the agencys global safety and security program through enhanced training and clear lines of technical and managerial oversight. (July, 2010)
- Peace Corps developed new standard operating procedures for overseas safety and security coordinators (SSCs), who are responsible for coordinating the overall implementation of volunteer safety and security support systems at each post. (August, 2010)
- Peace Corps signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nations largest anti-sexual violence organization, to collaborate and share resources on sexual assault prevention and response. (April, 2011)
- Peace Corps Sexual Assault Working Group continues to examine best practices in the field and work with experts within and outside of government to strengthen our program.
For more detailed information on Peace Corps safety and security practices, including the agencys Commitment to Sexual Assault Victims, please visit the Safety Section on the Peace Corps website.
About the Peace Corps: President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. Throughout 2011, Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment. Visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information.