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.
Please take time to review the crime data and statistics for Paraguay.
Safety Issues In-Country
In general, the crime rate in Paraguay is still one of the lowest in the region; but, as stated before, the majority of incidents happen in the city. There are several “typical” ways to commit robbery in Paraguay: Caballos locos (crazy horses) are men who usually pretend to be street vendors. However, when they detect a victim (either on foot or on a bus), they run up from behind, grab a cellphone, purse, necklace, or other valuable object (iPod, earrings, etc.) and run away so fast that they are almost impossible to catch. Also, while walking alone on the street, we may encounter peajeros—teenagers who demand money or threaten to harm you. They don’t demand wallets or cellphones, just coins or a small amount of money. Sometimes a group of street children will surround the person and beg for money. If this happens during daytime it is usually OK, but at nighttime it can become a dangerous situation as some of the children are older and may carry sticks, stones, or any kind of object. While in the countryside, Volunteers should use common sense in order to be safe at all times. We recommend that you not walk at night. However, if it is necessary for you to do so, take someone from the community along with you. Jogging is a good idea, but using the same route or going out too early (or too late) is not. Instead, having someone else or a group of children join you is always more secure. Also, lengthy travel at night should be avoided as assaults happen more often on night buses than on day ones. The other preferred method to rob or assault is using a motorbike. Burglars use motorbikes to run around and to choose random victims, so please avoid isolated streets outside of the downtown and also keep yourself in visible areas. While whistles and exclamations may be fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, abide by local cultural norms, and respond according to the training you will receive.
General Safety on the Street:
- Practice awareness vigilance, and other safety do/don’ts!
- Don’t call attention to yourself with flashy clothes and jewelry.
- Keep cameras out of sight.
- Know where you are going (or look like you know).
- Learn landmarks.
- Plan your route in advance.
- Be aware of what “part of town” you are in and take precautions accordingly.
- Learn higher risk areas: Plaza Uruguaya; Downtown (el Centro) Asuncion; Chacarita Mercado 4; Known gringo hangouts, any crowded bus areas
- Know local caution times: Noon-3 p.m. (siesta) and nights; weekends, especially slow Sundays when streets are more deserted.
- Be alert to surroundings and people (avoid suspicious people in crowds and on buses: cross the street, change routes, go into a store or hotel).
- Project confidence and assertiveness.
- Know your strengths and plan for emergencies.
- Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Paraguay!
- Pedestrians should use EXTREME caution because traffic laws are commonly violated.