The First Response Action (FRA) Coalition is an initiative led by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) working to support all Volunteers who are Survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Members of FRA individually identified the need for reform while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers at posts around the world. Subsequently, the FRA Coalition has learned that the problems faced by individual Volunteers after being assaulted are not unique to a certain country or locale; rather they are symptomatic of inadequate policies on the larger scale.
By advocating for comprehensive policy reform, First Response Action’s goal is to strengthen procedure, protocol and case management services for Peace Corps Volunteers who are victimized during service. The Seven Point Plan details the specific steps that Peace Corps can take to better serve its Volunteers. The First Response Action Coalition recognizes the vital importance of the U.S. Peace Corps in global diplomacy. We envision a Peace Corps with policies that reflect best practices in all areas of training, prevention and response to sexual assault and violent crime.
Detailed in this executive briefing are the steps that FRA is outlining for Peace Corps to take to further develop their response to Survivors. State, national and international organizations who have signed on to support the mission of First Response Action are listed below.
Seven Point Plan
The Seven Point Plan was designed by an RPCV who experienced sexual assault during service, with feedback from other RPCVs and PCVs. The Seven Point Plan has been shaped by other survivor experiences and from experts in the field. In order to align Peace Corps policies with best practices in the field, First Response Action strongly encourages the following action plan for the Peace Corps:
1) Create a Survivor Bill of Rights
2) Include Survivor Bill of Rights in Handbook
3) Develop a Non-Discrimination Policy
4) Designate an Advocate to Speak on Behalf of the Volunteer Survivor
5) Train In-Country Staff About Issues of Sexual Violence, Stalking, Physical Abuse, Kidnapping and Other Violent Crimes
6) Revise Volunteer Training and Prevention Curricula
7) Include Survivor Resources on the Peace Corps Website for Access by Volunteer, Friends and Family Members
Point One – Create a Survivor Bill of Rights
The Survivor Bill of Rights will be the basic document ensuring that Peace Corps Volunteers who are victims of sexual violence, stalking, physical abuse and kidnapping, among other violent crimes are treated with respect and dignity during all phases of the reporting process. The Survivor Bill of Rights will specifically outline the response process and protocols, as well as the roles played by the Volunteer, in-country Peace Corps staff and Peace Corps staff headquartered in Washington D.C. This survivor-centered approach would detail a survivor’s range of options including:
• Continued presence in-country or evacuation to another site;
• Cooperation and participation in law enforcement proceedings such as reporting,
- pressing charges and attending judicial measures;
• Receipt of appropriate and prompt medical treatment and counseling;
• Explanation of confidentiality protocols and;
• Participation in case management
The document will ensure that Volunteers are aware of their rights, and that in-country staff has an initial resource to guide their approach when Volunteers become a victim of assault. This document will ideally increase informed consent on behalf of Volunteers. It has the capacity to increase reporting by Volunteers by informing reluctant individuals of critical support services. This knowledge may assist in their ability to continue service successfully. The Survivor Bill of Rights will also support their decision to early terminate service and outline ongoing resources for support in the United States. Increased reporting will also help in-country staff to better assess and monitor ever changing safety and security concerns.
It is First Response Action’s position that this document will serve to guide both Volunteers and Peace Corps staff, as well as facilitate trust and communication between those entities during a time of crisis.
Point Two – Include Survivor Bill of Rights in Handbook
It is First Response Action’s position that the Bill of Rights should be included in the Volunteer Handbook and readily accessible online. Many Volunteers are posted in remote locations where there may not be cell phone reception or Internet access for Volunteers to obtain needed information when a crisis occurs. Volunteers all receive a hardcopy of the Volunteer Handbook upon entry into Peace Corps service. Wide access to this Bill of Rights will ensure that Volunteers who have recently been victimized, wherever they may be located, have a document to guide their reporting, as well as assurance that their best interests are being accounted for during a time of crisis.
Point Three – Develop a Non-Discrimination Policy
Include in the Bill of Rights a non-discrimination policy that addresses the Volunteer’s ability to continue service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, confidentiality and privacy issues, as well as consistent treatment free of favoritism. First Response Action sees it as necessary that every Volunteer, regardless of their decision to press legal charges, has access to the same medical treatment, counseling and relevant services.
Point Four – Designate an Advocate to Speak on Behalf of the Volunteer Survivor
Designate an advocate in the Volunteer’s country of service to speak on behalf of the Volunteer if they are emotionally or physically unable to represent themselves. The advocate would adhere to confidentiality protocols while assisting the affected Volunteer.
First Response Action encourages Peace Corps to work with international victim’s assistance programs like those developed by the State Department and FBI to ensure that Volunteer Survivors have access to an advocate who is trained in best practices and issues specific to American nationals victimized abroad. Due to ongoing testimony from Volunteer Survivors, First Response Action has identified unmet needs and barriers to accessing assistance. The advocate (as well as specifically trained staff, such as Sexual Assault Response Coordinators or Trauma Specialists) will have the responsibility to assist in communication and resource coordination.
Point Five – Train In-Country Staff About Issues of Sexual Violence, Stalking, Physical Abuse, Kidnapping and Other Violent Crimes
Many Volunteers who have survived sexual violence, stalking, physical abuse or other violent crimes report that in-country Peace Corps Medical Officers do not initially believe them, or do not identify the victimization as a crime. This response is incredibly damaging for Survivors. Inadequate or insensitive response on the part of the Peace Corps can be traced back to a lack of consistent and current training provided to in-country Peace Corps staff regarding response to victims of violent crime. First Response Action highly recommends that Peace Corps partner with leading national and international agencies to create a two-pronged training strategy to address this issue. These organizations may include (but are not limited to): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, International Association of Forensic Nurses, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center and the YWCA.
The two-part strategy must include:
A) Training in-country for Peace Corps leadership on topics including the dynamics of specific types of crime, cultural issues and barriers to effective prevention and intervention, law enforcement and criminal justice responses. The ongoing and extensive training curricula must allow for time and attention to the specific country’s legal and cultural climate and also provide protocol for when a Peace Corps Volunteer is assaulted by another Peace Corps Volunteer.
B) Training for Peace Corps Medical Officers in appropriate responses to physical and sex crimes, including comprehensive training in best practices for conducting sexual assault forensic medical/evidentiary exams, emergency contraception, and post-exposure prophylactics. A partnership with an agency like those listed above would ensure that Peace Corps is kept abreast of best practices in the field.
Point Six – Revise Volunteer Training and Prevention Curricula
Revise the current training curriculum to provide Peace Corps Volunteers with comprehensive information about sexual violence, stalking, physical abuse and kidnapping, among other crimes. This information would include country-specific crime victimization data, as well as available victim services. Training materials must address practical strategies for both Primary Prevention and Secondary Prevention, as instructed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Point Seven – Include Survivor Resources on the Peace Corps Website for Access by Volunteer, Friends and Family Members
The Peace Corps website should include: Survivors Bill of Rights, Peace Corps Policy Statement; Volunteer Survivor Resources, including points of contact for advocacy and assistance; and a process map that identifies critical steps. The website should be a user-friendly resource for the Volunteer, as well as friends and family.