Safety and Security
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American can put a Volunteer at risk. Property theft and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without a serious safety and security incident. Together, the Peace Corps and Volunteers can reduce risk, but cannot truly eliminate all risk. Read more on how the Peace Corps approaches safety and security.
Support from Staff
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your service. The plan includes information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for responding safety and security incidents.
Our first priority after an incident is to make sure the Volunteer is safe and receiving any necessary medical treatment. The faster an incident is reported, the faster we can provide support, including security, medical, emotional, and legal. Peace Corps staff will also support Volunteers who choose to make a formal complaint with local law enforcement. It’s important for Volunteers to report incidents as soon as possible after they occur so that Peace Corps can assess and determine if there is a lingering or ongoing safety and security concern for either Volunteer victim or their peer Volunteers, and take the necessary precautions to preserve the right to file a complaint if they choose to do so. The Peace Corps will train you to develop strategies mitigate risk and how to respond if you are the victim of a crime, including how to get to a safe location quickly and contact your Peace Corps office.
Crimes that do occur abroad are investigated and prosecuted by local jurisdictional authorities. If you decide to file a complaint, the Peace Corps will assist you in navigating this process. All Volunteers who are victims of crime have access to the Office of Victim Advocacy, which provides information on the medical, emotional, and legal support options available, and will support you through the process. The Office of Victim Advocacy is available 24/7.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
As a Volunteer, you must be prepared to assume a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. To reduce the likelihood that you will become a victim of crime, you can take steps to make yourself less of a target such as integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. In many ways, you can do what you would do if you moved to a new city anywhere: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware.
Factors that Contribute to Risk
Numerous factors can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within a Volunteer’s control. By far the most common crime that Volunteers experience is theft of property, which is more likely to happen when Volunteers are away from their sites, in crowded locations (such as markets or on public transportation), and when leaving items unattended. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people in smaller villages/towns know each other and are more likely to look out for their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns are favorite worksites for pickpockets.
Before you depart for service, you can take measures to reduce risk:
- Leave valuable objects in the United States, particularly those that are irreplaceable or have sentimental value
- Leave copies of important documents and account numbers with someone you trust in the States
- Purchase a hidden money pouch or “dummy” wallet as a decoy
- Purchase personal articles insurance
After you arrive in-country, you will receive detailed information about common crimes, factors that contribute to Volunteer risk, and local strategies to reduce that risk. Some of those include avoiding high-risk areas, knowing the local language, choosing safe routes for travel, and limiting alcohol consumption. You will also be informed of local safety and security policies, including any prohibitions on using certain types of public transportation, hitchhiking, and; avoiding high-risk recreation activities; and others.
Please take time to review the crime data and statistics for Armenia.
Safety Issues In-CountryThe following are safety issues that may concern volunteers in Armenia:
- Harassment: Volunteers have reported varying levels of harassment, such as having objects thrown at them by teenagers, being called derogatory names, and being subjected to overt sexual comments. Strategies for coping with street harassment will be discussed during pre-service training.
Thefts: Property theft, including pickpocketing in crowded public areas, such as markets or minibuses, should be anticipated based on the history of Peace Corps Volunteer incidents.
- Traffic accidents: Using local transportation and crossing the street safely are the greatest safety risks in Armenia. Volunteers are restricted from traveling at night and discouraged when road conditions are bad, especially in the winter. Public transportation is usually by minivans, many of which are old and in poor condition. Seat belts in vans and buses are nonexistent. Pedestrians in cities have to be especially cautious; although crosswalks exist, they are not usually recognized by drivers.
Burglary: The homes of some Volunteers have been burglarized in the past, so you will need to take the same precautions you would take in the United States. The Peace Corps will advise you on home safety during training.
- Border conflicts: Since the cease-fire agreement with Azerbaijan in 1994, large border incidents have been rare, but recent years have seen some significant incidents. The reports of incidents along the “line of contact” between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have increased infrequency. The Peace Corps maintains a five-kilometer no travel zone for Volunteers and staff along the Armenia/Azerbaijan border and does not place Volunteers in the first-line villages along the Azeri border.
Alcohol abuse: Making toasts with alcohol is a prevalent social custom in Armenia. Male Volunteers, especially, may be pressured to drink at social gatherings and even during normal daily activities, such as community meetings. Strategies for avoiding drinking and drinking responsibly will be discussed during pre-service training.
- Sexual assault: Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in Armenia, which is often associated with cross-cultural differences in gender relations and alcohol consumption. Safety training provided by the Peace Corps is designed to teach Volunteers how to minimize their risk. Peace Corps/Armenia is committed to providing a compassionate and supportive response to all Volunteers who have been sexually assaulted.