Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams Response to ABC World News on Jan. 27, 2011

Peace Corps takes the issue of sexual assault very seriously. There are procedures in place at each post to respond quickly and compassionately to our volunteers. Teams of specialists from the medical, mental health, security and legal fields are available immediately to assist the volunteer in the recovery process. There is no tolerance for a culture that blames victims. The women interviewed by ABCs 20/20 are courageous and strong, and their stories of sexual assault over the past decade are heartbreaking.

"ABCs 20/20 program does not accurately reflect the support we currently provide to Peace Corps volunteers. The health and safety of our volunteers is the single most important priority for our agency. We have made significant improvements over the past two years in providing support to sexual assault victims, and we look forward to working with Congress to further strengthen the Peace Corps and advance our mission of world peace and friendship.

ABC News has been accusing the Peace Corps of systematically covering up the extent to which Peace Corps volunteers have been victims of sexual assault. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been completely open and transparent about the extent of crimes, including rapes and sexual assaults, committed against volunteers. The Peace Corps publishes an annual Report of Volunteer Safety. Reports from the last five years are posted on the Peace Corps website. Each report provides detailed information regarding the incidence and number of rapes, attempted rapes, and sexual assaults among volunteers for the year in question, as well as trends for the past 10 years.

Reporting data without context does a disservice to honest reporting. Over the last 10 years, there have been on average 22 rapes and 14 major sexual assaults of Peace Corps volunteers a year. In 2009, there were 15 rapes of Peace Corps volunteers and 20 major sexual assaults out of 7,671 volunteers (4,624 female and 3,047 male volunteers). We are proud of the fact that the incidence of rape and sexual assault is on the decline and believe that it is due to enhanced training of staff and volunteers. In fact, between 1997 and 2009, there has been a 27 percent decline in the incidence of rape and attempted rape, and there has been a 34 percent decline in the incidence of major sexual assault.

We will continue to be vigilant on all issues of safety and security and do our very best to provide a healthy, safe and productive experience for the thousands of Americans who commit to Peace Corps service.

  • To view Peace Corps statement issued to ABC News 20/20 before the program aired click here.

  • For more information about our commitment to providing a safe and secure environment for our volunteers, please visit the Safety Section on our website.

About the Peace Corps: President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. Throughout 2011, Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 77 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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