First Response Action was formed in 2009 by a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Casey Frazee, who was sexually assaulted while serving in South Africa. Casey discovered post-assault that Peace Corps had no global policy or protocol for Peace Corps staff or Volunteers to refer to after a traumatic incident such as a rape, sexual assault or physical assault. Casey started First Response Action in September of 2009 with a blog of the same name. The blog was a vehicle to reach supporters of increased response, fellow survivors, Peace Corps staff and others with interest in the issue. The blog title and organization name First Response Action was inspired by Casey’s personal blog title, First Response Funny, which she started to document her Peace Corps service and life in South Africa.
Casey drafted, along with input from other survivors, a Seven Point Plan of actions that she recommended Peace Corps take to strengthen their commitment to Volunteers. The plan included increased training, improved response, access to information and services and a survivor bill of rights.
In 2010, several board members were added to the First Response Action Coalition. Karen Moldovan, an RPCV who served in Tonga and who currently works for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, brought her years of experience in the field to her role as a board member.· Karen also advocated for larger organizational support for the efforts of First Response Action which resulted in dozens of state, national and international organizations that signed on to support the mission and work of First Response Action. In 2008, prior to First Response Action being founded, Karen (then a newly-sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga) wrote to Peace Corps to discuss the ‘Serving Safely’ video. Karen carefully detailed the video’s potential damage to Volunteers with it’s victim-blaming conclusions and lack of information about Peace Corps’ response or engagement of men in the conversation of sexual violence. At the time, Karen was told by a senior-level Peace Corps medical staff person: “the video is a good training resource (when presented with the accompanying training module) which promotes rich discussions around this sensitive topic.” Two years later, Karen happily joined the board of First Response Action to advocate for improved response to victims of sexual and physical violence in Peace Corps. Surrounding the May 2011 Congressional hearing on this issue, the ‘Serving Safely’ video was largely panned by experts in the field of sexual violence as victim-blaming and damaging to survivors. Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams agreed, at the request of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to stop posts immediately from showing the video.
Kate Finn, an RPCV who served in Costa Rica and currently works for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, joined the board in 2010 as well and brought her political and legislative experience with her. Kate has been integral in connecting First Response Action to the Congressional Victims Rights Caucus and other political officials while serving on the board. Kate has also been instrumental in forging a fiscal sponsorship with the Denver VALE Board so First Response Action can receive funds to continue the mission.
Meg Long, an RPCV who served in Kenya and currently works for the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, joined the board in 2010 and she brings her experience in social work and public health. Meg created a manual to train her local Kenyan community on how to respond to incidents of rape and sexual assault while in service.
Katie Campbell, an RPCV who served in Tonga, joined the board as an at-large member and brings her experience working in the non-profit foreign aid sector in D.C. Jess Smochek, an RPCV survivor who served in Bangladesh, brings her experience working with the Peace Corps Worker’s Compensation system to the board to benefit fellow survivors.
Since First Response Action’s inception in 2009, many steps have been taken in the direction of increasing support for Volunteers and survivors. These steps include:
- August-November 2009 - Multiple phone calls are placed to several Peace Corps officials to discuss the issue of increased support for survivors of sexual and physical assault. No calls are returned.
- December 2009 - The National Peace Corps Association prints an article by Casey Frazee about what happened to her in South Africa and her outline for the way forward.
- February 2010 - Casey mails a letter to Peace Corps Director Williams outlining the issues and asking Director Williams to support the action steps outlined in the Seven Point Plan.
- March 2010 - Casey receives a letter back from Director Williams stating his support for increasing response to sexual and physical assault. Director Williams sets up a phone call with Casey and two Peace Corps staff members.
- March 2010 - Casey has a conference call with David Fleisig in the Safety & Security Office and Kim Skrtic in the Office of Medical Services. They are supportive of most items on the Seven Point Plan and assure Casey that change is in the pipeline. Peace Corps shares plans to have a revised response manual to be ready by the end of the summer.
- Summer 2010 - A survey is launched via Survey Monkey to gain information about what’s happening on the ground in the more than 70 countries where Peace Corps Volunteers are placed. To date, the survey has received nearly 200 responses from a cross-section of currently-serving Volunteers and RPCVs.
- Summer 2010 - Calls and emails to Peace Corps staff are not returned.
- September 2010 - Casey mails Director Williams a follow-up letter stating that communication has not been followed-up on from Peace Corps staff. Director Williams’ Chief of Staff responds with a kind letter inviting members of First Response Action to D.C. to meet with Peace Corps staff.
- December 2010·- First Response Action members meet with Peace Corps officials in D.C. to discuss the issue of improved training and response for sexual and physical assault.· Peace Corps informs members of their plans and progress and First Response Action members are cautiously optimistic.
- January 2011 - ABC News airs an episode of 20/20 with interviews of several women who were assaulted or raped during their Peace Corps service.
- February 2011 - Congressman Ted Poe, who co-chairs the Victims Rights Caucus, delivers a floor speech about the issues raised in the 20/20 episode. In weeks to come, Rep. Poe calls for a hearing on the matter.
- May 11, 2011 - Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called a Congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to address the way forward with the issue of inadequate response and protocol for survivors of sexual and physical assault while serving in Peace Corps. Three survivors from different time periods who served in different countries and regions spoke to the issue of mismanagement of sexual violence cases against Peace Corps Volunteers. Lois Puzey, the mother of slain Peace Corps Volunteer Kate Puzey, also speaks to the House Foreign and she addresses the need for whistle blower protection for Peace Corps Volunteers.
- September 26, 2011 - The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 passes the Senate by unanimous consent.
- November 1, 2011 - The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 passes the House by unanimous consent.
- November 21, 2011 - President Obama signs The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 into law.