Safety & Security
Volunteer sites can be susceptible to natural disasters, transportation accidents, and civil and political unrest. The Peace Corps provides extensive training and support to minimize these risks but they cannot be eliminated completely.
Peace Corps security personnel conduct regular detailed assessments of hazards, vulnerabilities, and potential impacts on Volunteers' well-being and operational continuity. These assessments can result in adjustments to placement decisions, policies, training, and emergency plans.
Each Volunteer site is carefully selected to fulfill health, safety, and programmatic criteria, and changing circumstances are closely monitored by both in-country and headquarters staff. In each host country, the Peace Corps maintains a collaborative relationship with the U.S. embassy and government officials to respond to Volunteer safety and security concerns.
The Peace Corps' overall safety and security program is overseen by the Office of Safety and Security at headquarters in Washington, D.C. This office monitors security issues, advises country programs, develops training programs, provides crisis management support, coordinates with other U.S. government counterparts, and disseminates best practices.
How in-country staff protect Volunteers' safety
At each Peace Corps post, a country director is responsible for the safety and security of Volunteers and for implementing the safety and security program. A safety and security coordinator assists the country director in carrying out this responsibility. Program managers work to ensure individual Volunteers integrate successfully into carefully selected sites. Each post also has at least one medical officer who is available 24/7 for emergencies and to coordinate medical care for Volunteers.
In-country staff assess and approve the communities where Volunteers live and work to ensure that placements are appropriate and secure housing and work sites are available. Site selection is based on established safety and security criteria:
- Consideration of
- Access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services
- Access to communication, transportation, and local markets
- Availability of
adequate housing and living arrangements
- Potential for maintaining the
acceptance and consent of host country authorities and the population-at-large
Peace Corps program managers and medical staff periodically visit Volunteers at their sites to monitor their health and safety. If Volunteers' safety or well-being is at risk or compromised, Peace Corps staff will work to resolve the situation or move the Volunteer to another location.
How the Peace Corps plans for emergencies
Volunteers typically live and work in communities at some distance from the Peace Corps office in the capital city of a host country. Volunteers are expected to stay in touch with the Peace Corps office on a periodic basis to ensure they can be contacted in case of an emergency. They are required to report their whereabouts when they travel away from their sites, and are required to receive Peace Corps authorization if they intend to leave their country of assignment for any reason.
The Peace Corps addresses larger security concerns through country-specific emergency action plans in place at each post. These plans are developed to address events such as natural disasters or civil unrest, and set forth the strategies developed by each Peace Corps office to prepare for, respond to, communicate, and recover from such crises. Each plan defines roles and responsibilities for staff and Volunteers, explains policies and procedures, and lists contact information for emergency resources. These plans are tested and revised annually, and Volunteers receive training to understand their roles and responsibilities.
The Peace Corps works closely with the U.S. embassy in-country and other international organizations to share information, monitor threats, develop strategies, and coordinate communication in a crisis. The agency also works in partnership with the State Department and host country officials to ensure emergency plans are comprehensive, current, realistic, rehearsed, and reflect best practices for the region. If a decision is made to evacuate Volunteers from a country, the Peace Corps will commit every resource at hand to safely move each and every Volunteer out of harm's way.
Peace Corps safety and security training
The Peace Corps takes an integrated approach to Volunteer training. Before assignment to the communities where they will live and work, trainees participate in up to 12 weeks of intensive pre-service training in their country of service. Activities often merge language, cross-cultural, health, and safety instruction.
During the pre-service phase, the Peace Corps typically places trainees with local families to aid in cultural integration and language acquisition. Trainees develop an awareness of their new environment, build their capacity to cope with the challenges they may face, and practice skills that help them adopt a safe and appropriate lifestyle. Trainees are also instructed on Peace Corps policies and procedures and their associated responsibilities.
Safety training covers the following:
- Understanding risks associated with serving abroad
- Coping with unwanted attention
- Promoting country-specific strategies and best practices to manage risks
- Recognizing local cultural norms
- Accessing services available to Volunteers who are victims of crime
- Safely utilizing public transportation
- Agreeing to follow Peace Corps policies and procedures
- Identifying emergency plans
- Reporting security concerns or crime incidents to Peace Corps staff
- Fulfilling their role in Peace Corps' Volunteer safety and support program
Trainees are not sworn in as Volunteers unless they demonstrate proficiency in established objectives. After swearing in, the Peace Corps provides integrated safety training throughout Volunteers' tour of service to help them better understand their surroundings and develop personal safety strategies.
How Volunteers can protect their safety
Being a Volunteer requires changes in lifestyle preferences and habits in deference to host country cultural expectations to minimize security risks. Choices in dress, living arrangements, means of travel, entertainment, and companionship may have a direct impact on how Volunteers are viewed, and thus treated, by their communities. Navigating the differences in gender relations may be one of the most sensitive and difficult lessons to learn, but one that can have a direct impact on Volunteers' security and the level of protection provided by the local community. Mature behavior and exercising sound judgment will enhance personal security.
Like the Peace Corps mission, safety and security are predicated on the development of interpersonal relationships between Volunteers and host country community members. Volunteers' daily safety is best assured when they are well-integrated into the local community, valued and protected as extended family members, and viewed as contributors to development. To this end, the Peace Corps strives to build and maintain the support of host country governments, authorities, and local communities for the Peace Corps' presence in-country and the work of Volunteers. Volunteers are responsible for learning the local language and integrating into their host community, and are expected to build and maintain respectful relationships with sponsoring agency representatives, colleagues, and other community members. These relationships help Volunteers establish a presence in their new homes, pave the way for many work and social opportunities, and become the basis for their support systems in-country.
Volunteers are urged to be aware of their environment, adopt a safe lifestyle, and exercise thoughtful judgment to reduce their exposure to risks.
How the Peace Corps supports Volunteers who are victims of crime
Each Peace Corps post has a comprehensive program to promote the safety and security of Volunteers. Depending on the circumstances, Peace Corps staff can, for example, care for injuries and emotional impacts, evaluate the ongoing security of a Volunteer's neighborhood, repair locks and household security devices, coordinate with local authorities to investigate a crime, ensure community members are fulfilling their responsibilities to support Volunteers, connect Volunteers with a victim advocate or attorney, change a work site, medically evacuate a Volunteer, and coach Volunteers on risk-reduction strategies, along with a range of other support services.
If at any time a Volunteer feels unsafe in her or his site, the Peace Corps will remove the Volunteer. Most Volunteers choose to continue their service after an incident or crime, though some may choose to end their service. The Peace Corps works with Volunteers to make decisions that are best for them.
The key components of each post's Volunteer safety and security support program are risk analysis and reduction; training; transparent information dissemination; site selection and monitoring; partnerships in host communities; standards for safe housing; emergency communication, planning, and testing; and procedures for responding to security concerns.
The Office of Victim Advocacy is another resource to current and returned Volunteers who have been victims of sexual assault, stalking, and other crimes. A victim advocate ensures Volunteers have access to the full range of support services provided by the Peace Corps.
What to do after a crime or incident occurs
Volunteers are strongly encouraged to report safety concerns and incidents to Peace Corps staff. Staff has been trained and is prepared to provide medical, emotional, legal, logistical, administrative, and advocacy support to Volunteers who are victims of crime. Staff discusses all available options with affected Volunteers, and strict privacy controls are in place to protect Volunteers' confidentiality.
Is Peace Corps service safe?
The Peace Corps is absolutely committed to providing trainees and Volunteers with the best training, guidance, support, and information they need to remain healthy, safe, and productive throughout their service. The Peace Corps' broad and systematic approach to keep Volunteers safe during their service is based upon several fundamental tenets of Volunteer safety and security, including building relationships, sharing information, training, site development, incident reporting and response, and emergency communications and planning. Still, the Peace Corps cannot eliminate every risk that Volunteers face.
Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as financially well-off are some of the factors that can put Volunteers at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur. Precise information about reported incident rates, by country and crime type, is available in the Peace Corps Annual Statistical Report of Crimes Against Volunteers [PDF]. Based on feedback from the Annual Volunteer Survey [PDF], the vast majority of Volunteers feel safe in the areas where they live and work.