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 addressing safety and security incidents. Our first priority after an incident is to make sure the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. The faster an incident is reported, the faster we can provide support, including 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 when they occur so that Peace Corps staff can take care of the Volunteer, as well as to determine if there is an ongoing safety and security concern, protect peer Volunteers, and preserve the right to file a complaint. The Peace Corps will train you to respond if you are the victim of a serious 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 help through the 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
Because many Volunteer sites are in rural, isolated settings, you must be prepared to take on 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, 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 valuables 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 safety and security policies, including prohibitions on riding public transportation at night, hitchhiking, and traveling the night train alone; avoiding high-risk recreation activities; and others.
Please take time to review the crime data and statistics for Timor-Leste.
Safety Issues in-country
- Motor vehicle accidents are the greatest risk to your safety. Roads are generally in poor condition.
Vehicular and motorcycle accidents are frequent. Buses (angunas), microbuses (microlets) and
large trucks (kaminiotas) are the most common modes of motorized public transportation in rural
areas. Volunteers should not travel on roads and highways at night because of the risk of
accidents. Volunteers should wear seatbelts whenever available. Choosing angunas that are in
good repair is wise. Volunteers are not allowed to drive or ride on motorcycles/mopeds.
- Foreigners, including Volunteers, have been targets of sexual assault in Timor-Leste. Alcohol
consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual
assaults, and the assailant is often an acquaintance of the victim. Female expatriates have been
sexually harassed and assaulted in Dili and Baucau, particularly when walking/jogging alone or at
night. Volunteers who take seriously the training provided by the Peace Corps regarding sexual
assaults can minimize their risk. Volunteers are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault
to the medical officer so appropriate support can be provided.
- Unfortunately, pickpocketing occurs in the larger communities most often in markets, bus
stations, the beaches, and other areas where crowds are present. Homes in these areas may also
become a target for robbery. Money and other valuables should be kept secure. While unusual,
theft can occur even in rural villages. Houses should be kept locked and valuables should be kept
in a locked trunk when you leave your site. Violent crime is rare in rural villages, but it is a
growing concern in larger cities.
- In rural areas, children will be curious about you and your lifestyle and may “borrow” small items
for closer inspection. Volunteers should carefully consider whether or not to bring more
expensive, tempting items, such as laptop computers, jewelry, and fancy cameras. The Peace
Corps has established housing criteria that sponsoring villages/organizations must meet to
minimize risks. You will be advised on proper home safety during pre-service training.
- Local crimes and assaults often involve alcohol use either by the victim or the perpetrators. An
individual’s use of alcohol that repeatedly places the individual at risk or results in discredit to
him/her or to the Peace Corps is considered unacceptable and the individual may be asked to
leave the Peace Corps.
- Timor-Leste’s infrastructure is not built to withstand natural disasters such as a large earthquake
or strong cyclone. Fortunately, these types of events occur infrequently. Flash flooding is a
concern during the rainy season, especially in the districts outside Dili where the mountainous
terrain creates the potential for landslides. Peace Corps/Timor-Leste has a detailed emergency
action plan for managing any type of emergency situation.