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Safety and Security

Crime happens both at home and abroad. One of our goals in preparing you to serve as a Volunteer is to help you adjust your United States-based understanding of crime risks to the realities of the country where you will serve.

Please take a moment to learn about crimes past Volunteers experienced while serving in Panama [PDF].

The Peace Corps has a multi-pronged approach to help you stay safe. It includes training before and during service, site selection safety criteria, emergency communication systems, country-specific safety policies and procedures, a detailed emergency action plan, and staff trained on protocols for responding to crimes and other security incidents.

Read more on how the Peace Corps approaches safety and security.

As a Volunteer, you must also be prepared to assume a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. To reduce the likelihood that you will become a crime victim, you can take steps to make yourself a less likely target of crime such as integrating into your community, learning the local language, staying aware of what's going on around you, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures.

Reducing Risk

Together, the Peace Corps and Volunteers can reduce the likelihood of crime, but cannot truly eliminate all risk.

Our first priority after a crime occurs is to make sure the Volunteer is safe and receiving any necessary medical treatment. The faster an incident is reported, the faster the Peace Corps can provide support, including security, medical, emotional, and legal support. Peace Corps staff will also support Volunteers who choose to make a complaint with local law enforcement. It is important for Volunteers to report incidents to staff 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 the Volunteer victim or their peer Volunteers. The Peace Corps will train you to develop personal strategies to 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.

Local jurisdictional authorities (as opposed to U.S. Government authorities), are usually responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur abroad. All Volunteers who are victims of crime have access to the Office of Victim Advocacy, which is staffed by trained professionals who can provide 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 hours a day, seven days a week.

Common Types of Crimes

Property crimes (e.g., theft, robbery, burglary) are among the most common crimes Volunteers experience. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as financially well-off may increase the risk that someone will try to steal a Volunteer's money or property. These types of crimes are more likely to occur when a Volunteer is away from the community in which they live and work, in crowded locations (such as markets or on public transportation), and when items are left unattended or doors unlocked.

Sexual assault is a global societal problem. For Peace Corps Volunteers, sexual assault most often takes the form of non-consensual sexual touching (e.g., groping, being kissed without consent, or attempts to do these things). The Peace Corps classifies these offenses as "non-aggravated sexual assault". The intensive training you will receive prior to service includes sexual assault awareness education, sexual assault reporting and response, information about the culture and specific risks in your host country, unwanted attention, and bystander intervention training.

It may not be possible to avoid sexual harassment or assault because, ultimately, the choice to commit such acts lies with the person committing them. Some things Volunteers do to mitigate the risks of these types of incidents are understanding and observing local norms, avoiding locations where incidents are more common, and using local phrases to preempt or respond.