Are you thinking of joining Peace Corps? Read this first.
I am Casey Frazee, founder of First Response Action and survivor of a sexual assault while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I get emailed quite frequently by family and friends of people who are looking to join Peace Corps. I also hear from women who are thinking about serving, but are intimidated by the blogs they read, stories they hear and reports about poor response or cover-ups from Peace Corps staff.
I would never tell someone not to join Peace Corps because I was assaulted. Crime can happen to anyone and I know women who were Peace Corps Volunteers and were not assaulted. Just because something happened to me, doesn’t mean it will happen to someone else. (The key is response from Peace Corps and you can find out more about First Response Action’s position on Peace Corps’ response on other places on this website.)
The issue of safety is incredibly important, and through my work with First Response Action, I have identified some topics of interest to anyone considering serving in the Peace Corps. I have combined my personal experience and experiences of survivors who contact me to create this list. If you are a survivor who has something to add to this list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Survivors’ Advice for People Looking to Join Peace Corps:
- Once you get your invitation to the specific country where you will be serving, research the blogs of Volunteers in that country (Try http://www.peacecorpsjournals.com/). Research the reported rates of crime in the country (realizing that reported and actual crime statistics may vary in your country of service). Find out how Peace Corps has managed Volunteer-related crime there in the past. The information that is most important in an un-safe situation would be to know WHO to call first in case of an emergency and HOW to get a hold of that person. Keep your eyes on the lookout for numbers and specifics related to the country that would be helpful if you needed to evacuate your site quickly. Also, you may want to give this information to your parents, family, friends or loved ones in case they had concerns or you were only able to communicate with them in a crisis situation. Check out Peace Corps’ Safety of the Volunteer reports here: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=learn.safety
- Examine your reason for wanting to join Peace Corps.Service to others? Are your friends in Peace Corps already? Did your parents or other family members serve in Peace Corps? Resume-builder? Felt that JFK-calling? Peace Corps Volunteers live on the same level as the community they live in. What that often translates to is restrained mobility, limited access and possible isolation. Most Volunteers do not have reliable transportation as Peace Corps prohibits motorized vehicles. Some Volunteers may have bikes, but that is not the safest method of transportation. It’s important to take a realistic approach to your life as a Volunteer.
- Talk to Volunteer or Returned Volunteers.While not all female Volunteers will be assaulted or raped, harassment is a frequent occurrence for many Volunteers. I have yet to meet a female Volunteer who wasn’tharassed on a regular (daily or weekly) basis. Men can also be victims of harassment. Talk to Volunteers who are currently serving or who have served and ask their opinion. They will be a great resource for useful phrases and culturally appropriate nuances to combat unwanted attention. Once in-country, speak with currently-serving Volunteers to determine any cultural implications of actions that may seem harmless in the U.S. (i.e. eye contact in some regions of the world, or inviting someone into your home, etc.)
- Once in-country, ask a lot of questions. Ask Peace Corps staff about local language phrases that would allow you to identify and response to ‘unwanted attention.’ Ask what the response is when a crime occurs – ask for SPECIFICS. A lot can be gleaned from how PC officials respond to these questions – how comfortable they feel, how knowledgeable they seem, etc. Some people say that they fear becoming the ‘difficult’ Volunteer by asking questions, but your safety is paramount.
- Trust your instincts.I hear this a lot. Some women tell me they have the feeling that something is wrong or weird, but they ignore it. You know yourself best, you will know your site best and you will know your situation better than anyone else. If you feel uncomfortable, you have a right to remove yourself from the situation no matter what the cultural implications may be. If it doesn’t feel ok, it probably isn’t. Sexual harassment has been shown to be a pre-courser to sexual assault or rape in some cases. Some Volunteers report harassment or threats but the reports are not taken seriously by Peace Corps in-country staff. If something feels wrong, bypass Peace Corps staff if you need to so you can make a safety plan and get out of any immediate danger you feel you are in. You can contact the Office of Special Services in D.C. if you feel that Peace Corps staff in-country is not effectively managing your situation. The numbers are: 1 -800-424-8580 ext. 1470 or 202-692-1470.