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.

Safety Issues In-Country

Vehicular Accidents

Traffic accidents are of a major concern to Volunteers in Kenya. Peace Corps’ transportation policies are designed to reduce the risk of Volunteer involvement in traffic accidents, however accidents remains an area of concern given the road and driving conditions in the country.

Thefts and Burglaries

Like in most countries, theft is most common in urban areas. Perpetrators frequently target victims at crowded public transportation hubs (trains, buses, depots and stations) especially during peak hours. Crimes usually take the form of pick-pocketing with some perpetrators working in teams, and snatch and grabs. Burglaries usually targeted those perceived as wealthy including foreigners. Other scams involve ATM card readers and credit card skimmers. Volunteers will most likely be at higher risk when traveling or visiting urban areas.

Unwanted Attention and Sexual Harassment

We anticipate that unwanted attention and sexual harassment, especially for females, will be a challenge for Volunteers. Strategies for dealing and coping with harassment will be discussed during pre-service training. Volunteers are likely 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 exclamations may be fairly common in Kenya, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, abide by local cultural norms, and respond according to the training you will receive. By proactively and strategically building relationships with key individuals in the community (i.e., counterparts, co-workers, neighbors, members community organizations, local shop owners, taxi/bus station workers), Volunteers can make their site become a place where they feel safe and comfortable throughout service.

Sexual Assault

Volunteers serving in Kenya may experience unwanted harassment and sexual assaults, most likely groping and unwanted touching. Those who take seriously the training provided on "risk assessment" and dealing with assaults, which are often associated with alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations, can minimize their risk. The Peace Corps urges Volunteers to report all assaults and threats of assault to the Medical Officer and/or Safety and Security Manager so staff can respond with appropriate support.

Whereabouts Reporting

The Peace Corps requires that each Peace Corps country have a "whereabouts" policy and that you, as a Volunteer, comply fully with this policy. Peace Corps Kenya has developed a whereabouts policy that encourages Volunteers to invest time in their sites, but at the same time realizes that "down time" is also important for Volunteers. You will be expected to follow established procedures any time you contemplate leaving your site by providing notification of your travel prior to leaving your site. The whereabouts policy will be explained in greater detail during your in-country training. Although this policy will put limitations on your travels, something you need to recognize and accept, it will lessen any risks that you may face while traveling around the country. Most importantly, it will enable Peace Corps Kenya to locate you at any time should there be any type of emergency, such as those relating to family back in the States or natural disasters such as mentioned above.