FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn Statement on USA Today Article
“USA Today recently published an article on sexual assault experienced by volunteers during their service. To those volunteers who have told their stories about sexual assault in the Peace Corps: I am so very sorry for the trauma you have experienced. You have each shown tremendous courage, and I am grateful that you have come forward.
“These are devastating stories, and the agency is working to get to the root of the very serious issues that were raised.
“As we approach the return to service of volunteers, we are intensifying and cementing our commitment to mitigating risk, wherever possible, and providing victim-centered and trauma-informed support to sexual assault survivors. We must always be an agency that empowers survivors and tears down barriers to reporting, services and care.
“As the new Acting Director of the agency and a returned volunteer myself, I am personally committed to ensuring the following systems are in place prior to the return of volunteers to service:
- A new Security Incident Management System (SIMS) will be launched to better document and analyze crimes. This system will provide a complete record of support and services provided to volunteers who experience any crime during service, including sexual assault.
- Data will be provided to applicants on country-specific health and safety information, including health and safety risks, volunteer satisfaction and early termination rates. Invitees who wish to be considered for a different posting after reviewing this data will be offered an alternative option, whenever possible.
- Site history procedures will be fully implemented and documented, including a review of past crime data, prior to placing any volunteers at that site.
- Procedures for vetting host families will be reinforced. And the required orientation on sexual assault and harassment for host families and counterparts will be bolstered.
“To ensure robust and systemic implementation of best practices, we will conduct an external review of the structure of our Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response (SARRR) Program to ensure that all of our policies and procedures are being properly followed. I have requested that the Sexual Assault Advisory Council (SAAC), a team of independent experts, review progress on all recommendations to the agency. We will make those findings public.
“Although Peace Corps has made improvements in our risk reduction, response and support programs over the last decade, these stories demonstrate that there is still work to be done.
“The Peace Corps remains committed to this vital work at every level within the agency.
“I have asked the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to review all the cases of sexual assault referenced in this article. I have also assigned a dedicated team at headquarters to review open OIG recommendations and take corrective action.
“If there are others who are willing to share their stories with us, we would like to hear from them.* We invite and encourage survivors to submit information any time confidentially to the Office of Inspector General at [email protected] or to me personally at [email protected]. And anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence in the Peace Corps can contact the Office of Victim Advocacy, which is available 24 hours a day and can provide services and referrals. OVA can be reached by phone or text at 202-409-2704 or email at [email protected].”
*Update - 4/28/21: As required by the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018, any staff member you may contact, including the Acting Director, is required to immediately notify the Office of Victim Advocacy when the matter relates to sexual assault.
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About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, the environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today's global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans of all ages have served in 142 countries worldwide. For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.