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Peace Corps OIG: 53% of Rapes Perpetrated on Volunteers Not Reported, See Why

Posted: 2:18 am ET

 

The Inspector General for the Peace Corps released its final evaluation report of the Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program.  The report notes that there were 513 sexual assaults entered into the Peace Corps’ Consolidated Incident Reporting System between September 3, 2013 and September 29, 2015.

In 2014, Volunteers reported 251 sexual assaults and there were 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

The main findings are:

  • The Peace Corps largely complied with the requirements in the Kate Puzey Act.
  • Compared to our SARRR evaluation in 2013, the Peace Corps markedly improved how it supported Volunteers who had reported a sexual assault. However we found individual cases where the Peace Corps did not meet its standard to respond effectively and compassionately to victims of sexual assault, including a few instances of victim blaming and improperly sharing confidential details with staff.
  • Some applicants were either not aware of the crime and risks previous Volunteers had faced in their country of service or they did not understand the information that was provided to them.
  • The SARRR program did not fully utilize some staff with SARRR expertise. The SARRR program would also benefit from a risk reduction strategy that tailors training to the country of service, addresses the risks of sexual harassment, and identifies factors that make sites unsafe.
  • Finally, the SARRR training’s design and delivery may have detracted from Volunteer comprehension and learning.

The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (the Kate Puzey Act) required the Peace Corps to undertake a number of reforms, including providing sexual assault risk reduction and response (SARRR) training for Volunteers, developing a comprehensive SARRR policy, and training overseas staff on that policy. The Act directed the Peace Corps OIG to evaluate the effectiveness and implementation of the training and policy, and to review a statistically significant number of sexual assault cases.

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Stats on Rapes and Sexual Assaults

Peace Corps Volunteers and trainees reported 251 sexual assaults in 2014 and 241 sexual assaults in 2015. The assaults in 2015 included 52 rapes, 35 aggravated sexual assaults, and 154 non-aggravated sexual assaults.  Female Volunteers reported the majority of these sexual assaults (228 cases). Male Volunteers reported 13 sexual assaults including 1 rape, 6 aggravated sexual assaults, and 6 non-aggravated sexual assaults.

Starting in 2014, the Peace Corps began surveying Volunteers at the close of their service regarding crimes they had experienced and not reported to the agency. Survey results indicated that the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report one or more rapes or aggravated sexual assaults was similar to the proportion of Peace Corps victims who did not report other crimes: roughly 50 percent of crimes against Volunteers were not reported. This Peace Corps analysis indicated that 53 percent of rapes and 49 percent of aggravated sexual assaults were not reported. It also showed that 85 percent of surveyed respondents who experienced at least one non-aggravated sexual assault had not reported one or more of them to the Peace Corps.

Available Help and Agency Reporting

The evaluation found that the agency had provided contact information for: the Peace Corps Inspector General, a 24-hour sexual assault hotline for Volunteers, the Peace Corps Office of Victim Advocacy, and the Sexual Assault Response Liaison in the Volunteer’s country of service as required by the Act.
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The Kate Puzey Act required the Peace Corps to create a system “for restricted and unrestricted reporting of sexual assault.” Volunteers may file either a “restricted” or a “standard” report, depending on which response services they would like the agency to provide. According to MS 243 Procedures, the restricted reporting option “allows Volunteers to request certain specific services without dissemination of personally identifying information about the Volunteer or the details of the sexual assault beyond those who are directly providing the services, and without automatically triggering an official investigative process.” The agency treats all reports as restricted until the Volunteer decides to choose a standard report, and a Volunteer may elect to convert his or her restricted report to standard at any time.

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Some Volunteers had not learned important information in the sexual assault risk reduction and response sessions, including the difference between restricted and standard reporting, the services available to a victim of a sexual assault, how to report a sexual assault incident, and the identity and role of Sexual Assault Response Liaisons at post. The training was insufficiently tailored to the country of service (as required by the Act), was not responsive to the needs of diverse Volunteers, and did not address the problem of sexual harassment. In addition, some staff delivered the training inconsistently due to poor training skills. Furthermore, the Peace Corps’ approach to assessing the Volunteer training was incomplete and did not provide a useful measure of training effectiveness.
[…]
[T]he agency often accommodated Volunteers’ requests to change sites for safety and security reasons, in some cases Volunteers were separated from the Peace Corps rather than relocated to another site. Volunteers we interviewed felt disenfranchised from the discussions regarding their safety and continued service.[…]We found that staff and Volunteers had a mistaken belief that they were limited to six or fewer counseling sessions after a sexual assault. As a result, some Peace Corps Medical Officers provided incorrect information about the availability of counseling. We concluded that some Volunteer sexual assault survivors could have been deterred from reporting their need for counseling.

Non-Reporting Analysis

The analysis summarized the primary reasons Volunteers had not reported their sexual assaults, which included: embarrassment, self-blame, not perceiving the sexual assault as a crime or serious event, and believing that there was nothing the Peace Corps could do about the assault. For non-aggravated sexual assaults—which were both the most frequently reported type of assault, as well as the most under reported—surveyed Volunteers had not reported them for three main reasons: they did not think the incidents were serious or threatening; they perceived the incident as commonplace in the environment where they served; and they did not believe there was anything the Peace Corps could do to address it.

Other reasons that surveyed Volunteers said they had not reported their sexual assaults included concerns about how Peace Corps staff might respond, such as blaming the victim for their assault, failing to respect the victim’s privacy and confidentiality, or simply not responding to the victim in a timely and supportive manner. Volunteers also indicated in their survey responses that they had not reported a sexual assault because they anticipated adverse consequences, such as being required to change their site, sent home, or punished for having violated a Peace Corps policy. These concerns were significantly more pronounced for rape victims and aggravated sexual assault victims than for non-aggravated sexual assault victims.

Among surveyed Volunteers who had not reported their assaults to the Peace Corps because they were concerned about how staff would respond to them or the potential adverse consequences of reporting, a relatively high percentage had served at a small number of posts. Two of the 54 posts in the survey constituted almost 25 percent of the Volunteers who did not report their assaults because of these concerns. Nine posts represented nearly 50 percent of the Volunteers who had not reported an assault for similar reasons.

 

The PC/OIG review includes interviews with 127 staff, 72 Volunteers, visits to 6 countries, and review of 138 sexual assault cases.  The report also includes 36 recommendations for the Peace Corps.

The report is a crucial reference as the State Department task force works on FAM guidance for sexual assault in the Foreign Service. NSVRC also notes that supporting survivors means assisting them with financial burdens as well as physical & emotional ones. Read here: 

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