Statement from Director Aaron S. Williams on Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 4, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 4, 2011The Peace Corps issued the following statement from Director Aaron S. Williams on Sexual Assault Awareness Month:

Peace Corps volunteers, staff, partner organizations, survivors, and advocates will be coordinating events and prevention programs with the aim of increasing awareness of sexual assault. This month, let us reaffirm our dedication to take action in our Peace Corps community and stop abuse before it starts. Together, we can increase awareness about sexual violence, decrease its frequency, help victims, and heal lives.

We treat all volunteers with dignity and respect. No one deserves to be a victim of a sexual assault. We will never be able to eliminate volunteers exposure to crimes overseas, but we will continue to do our best to make Peace Corps a safe and productive experience for those Americans serving today and in the future.

Under my direction, Peace Corps Sexual Assault Working Group is leading educational activities and continuing to improve our ability to prevent rapes and sexual assaults against our volunteers and better support victims. We have implemented a number of measures to expand the breadth and depth of Peace Corps ability and commitment to prevent and respond to sexual assaults.

About Peace Corps Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG)
In 2008, Peace Corps created a Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) to improve our ability to prevent rapes and sexual assaults against our volunteers and better support victims. This group has been reinvigorated under the direction of an experienced former Peace Corps country director now serving in the Office of Safety and Security. Currently, there are procedures in place at each post to respond promptly and compassionately to an assault. Teams of specialists from the medical, mental health, security, and legal fields are available immediately to assist each volunteer in the recovery process. SAWG is completing a comprehensive sexual assault and rape prevention and response program and has been working with returned volunteers, experts across the federal government, and national advocacy groups. Most recently, Peace Corps and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nations largest anti-sexual violence organization, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate and share resources on sexual assault prevention and response.

Peace Corps has taken the following proactive steps to strengthen our prevention and support systems:

1. Issued a written Commitment to Volunteers that set the standards for how we provide compassionate and timely support to sexual assault and rape victims.

2. Enhanced staff training to support victims of sexual assault. Our staff worldwide has received training in the enhanced Guidelines for Responding to Rape and Major Sexual Assault, which standardizes our victim-centered approach and provides posts with plans to ensure an effective response.

3. Created a new victims advocate position at Peace Corps headquarters. This advocate will ensure that victims receive the emotional, medical, legal, and other support services they need and deserve both during and after the completion of their Peace Corps service.

4. Issued a Frequently Asked Questions document on our website to better inform the general public about agency safety and security procedures.

Other plans include enhancing the training offered to volunteers and staff. Future volunteers will receive prevention training before they depart for service, in addition to revised prevention and support training modules once they are in their countries of service. Additionally, the Peace Corps is in the process of establishing a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Panel comprised of members from outside the agency. This panel will advise the Peace Corps on best practices in prevention and support systems.

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. Visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information.

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