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 the Dominican Republic.
Safety Issues In-Country
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the largest risks to Volunteer safety in the Dominican Republic. During pre-service training Volunteers will be given information on mitigating this risk, including instructions to avoid riding in overcrowded public buses or vans, prohibition on traveling long distances in cars or buses at night, and the requirement to wear helmets at all times while riding motorcycles.
Robbery and burglary are risks and you need to exercise precaution at all times. The Peace Corps will provide information on proper home safety during training and requires landlords to install proper locks on all Volunteer housing. In addition, many Americans and Dominicans have been the victims of muggings, especially in Santo Domingo. A common strategy of muggers is for two men on a motorcycle to hold up the victim at gunpoint and get away quickly. It is important to travel on well-lit streets at night with other people around you, and take a taxi when possible. Carrying bags/purses and using cellphones in public is highly discouraged.
Border Conflicts and Haiti
There is a long history of animosity between Dominicans and Haitians, including border conflicts and military involvement. Tensions between the two countries still exist today. Court rulings since 2013 have left many people of Haitian descent stateless in the Dominican Republic and have drawn international attention. Volunteers serving in the Dominican Republic, especially those near the Haitian border, may feel the effects of the current legal tensions. For example, Volunteers have been removed from public transportation by Dominican troops at roadside checkpoints in spite of proof of legal residency and American citizenship. While this has affected various Volunteers, black Volunteers with darker complexions may be mistaken for Haitians and are thus more often subjected to this practice. Peace Corps/Dominican Republic has developed travel procedures for Volunteers serving along or near the border as well as those traveling on routes connecting to Haiti. In addition, all Volunteers in transit are required to carry their identity documents with them. Peace Corps staff is always available to support Volunteers in any situation where they feel their safety is at risk. Sexual and Other Harassment Volunteers have reported varying levels of harassment, including sexual comments and being called derogatory names, though this rarely happens at Volunteers’ sites, where they are known. Both men and women may feel sexually harassed if perceived as not conforming to expected gender norms. Many Volunteers may feel harassed for the constant, unwanted attention that comes from being a foreigner in a Dominican community. Strategies for dealing and coping with harassment will be discussed during pre-service training.
Alcohol AbuseThe Dominican Republic has a higher rate of alcoholism than the United States. Volunteers have reported being approached by drunken men asking for money and alcohol. It is best to avoid frequenting bars, particularly at night. Alcohol use impairs judgment and must be consumed responsibly. The Peace Corps does not tolerate public drunkenness by Volunteers, which can lead to termination of service.
Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in the Dominican Republic. Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations often are associated with sexual assaults. Volunteers who take seriously the training provided by the Peace Corps regarding sexual assaults will minimize their risk. Volunteers are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault to the Peace Corps medical officer so staff can respond with appropriate support. While whistles and verbal harassment based on race or gender may be fairly common on the street, this behavior may be reduced if you abide by local cultural norms, dress conservatively, and respond according to the training you will receive.