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 Fiji.
Safety Issues In-CountryMotor vehicle accidents are the greatest risk to your safety. Buses and taxis are the most common modes of motorized transportation in rural areas. Volunteers should not travel on roads and highways at night because of the risk of accidents. Volunteers should wear seatbelts whenever available. Choosing larger buses in good repair is wise. Volunteers should also avoid traveling by mini-buses as they are generally overcrowded and less safe than regular buses or taxis. Unfortunately, pick pocketing and purse snatching have become more common in the urban areas of Nadi and Suva in markets, bus stations, and other areas where crowds are present. Volunteers traveling through these areas may be perceived and targeted as tourists. Homes in these areas may also become a target for robbery. Money and other valuables should be kept secure. While unusual, theft can occur even in rural villages. Houses should be kept locked and valuables should be kept in a locked trunk when you leave your village. Violent crime is very rare in rural villages, but it is a growing concern in larger cities, particularly in Suva. There are certain high crime areas (which will be pointed out to you) that must be avoided. In cities, Volunteers should travel in groups of two or more at night.
In rural areas, children will be curious about you and your lifestyle and may “borrow” small items for closer inspection. Volunteers should carefully consider whether or not to bring more expensive, tempting items, such as laptop computers and fancy cameras. The Peace Corps has established minimal housing criteria that sponsoring villages/organizations must meet to minimize risks. You will be advised on proper home safety during pre-service training.
Foreigners, including Volunteers, have been targets of sexual assault in Fiji and other countries in the Pacific.
Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults, and the assailant is often an acquaintance of the victim. Volunteers who take seriously the training provided by Peace Corps/Fiji regarding sexual assaults can minimize their risk. Volunteers are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault to the medical officer so appropriate support can be provided. Volunteer assignments and recreation may involve considerable interaction with the marine environment, including travel by boat. Peace Corps/Fiji requires Volunteers to know how to swim and be comfortable on and in the water. As many boats in Fiji do not come equipped with life vests, Volunteers are issued one upon arrival in-country and are required to wear it whenever they are in a boat/vessel. Other marine hazards, from coral cuts to poisonous water snakes, will be discussed more specifically during pre-service training. Tropical cyclones are common between November and April, with one or two generally affecting Fiji each year. In March 2010, a particularly destructive cyclone destroyed many houses in Fiji, including some Volunteer homes; however, all Volunteers were contacted in advance of the storm and relocated to safe areas. There is usually ample time to prepare for storms; appropriate precautionary measures for you and your community will be discussed during pre-service training. Most local crimes and assaults involve alcohol use either by the victim or the perpetrators.
Any individual’s use of alcohol that repeatedly places the individual at risk or results in discredit to him/her or to the Peace Corps is considered unacceptable and the individual may be asked to leave the Peace Corps. If, in the opinion of the medical officer, a Volunteer is abusing alcohol, that individual may be medically evacuated to Washington, D.C., for assessment and counseling.
Volunteers tend to attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are more likely to receive negative attention in highly populated centers, and away from their support network—friends and colleagues—who look out for them.
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.