S. 1280: Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011

S. 1280

Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011

Sponsor
Sen. Johnny Isakson

Date
November 1, 2011 (112th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

 

S. 1280 was introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on June 27, 2011, and passed in the Senate by unanimous consent on September 26, 2011.  On September 29, 2011, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The House is scheduled to consider S. 1280 on Tuesday, November 1, 2011, under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote.

Bill Summary

S. 1280 would amend the Peace Corps Act to require the Director of the Peace Corps, as part of the training provided to all volunteers, to develop and implement comprehensive sexual assault risk-reduction and response training that conforms to best practices in the sexual assault field.  It would require that volunteers receive training tailored to their country of service – including cultural training relating to gender relations, risk-reduction strategies, a safety plan in the event of an assault, treatment available in such country, MedEvac procedures, and information regarding the legal process for pressing charges against an attacker.

S. 1280 would require the Director to provide applicants for enrollment with a historical analysis of crimes against, and risks to, volunteers in the country in which the applicant has been invited to serve.  The bill would require that, prior to enrolling as volunteers, trainees be provided with contact information of the Peace Corps' Inspector General for purposes of reporting violations of the sexual assault protocol or any other criminal or administrative wrongdoing by individuals who do business with the Peace Corps, and with clear, written guidelines regarding whom to contact and what steps to take in the event of a sexual assault.

In addition, the bill would require the Director to:

  1. Develop, implement, and distribute comprehensive sexual assault protocol guidelines that conform to best practices in the sexual assault field that are applicable to all posts at which volunteers serve, and train all in-country staff regarding the protocol and guidelines;
  2. Expeditiously remove a volunteer who feels at risk of imminent bodily harm and requests removal from the site in which such volunteer is serving, and assess and evaluate the safety of the site;
  3. Establish sexual assault response teams;
  4. Conduct case reviews of a statistically significant number of cases on a quarterly basis;
  5. Establish a global tracking and recording system to track and record incidents of assault against volunteers;
  6. Establish an alternative reporting system and hotline access system through which volunteers who are assault victims can report and receive support anonymously; and
  7. Assign a certified victims advocate in Peace Corps headquarters who shall report directly to the Director.

The bill would further require the Director to:

  1. Establish goals, metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for all Peace Corps programs and Country Directors;
  2. Annually conduct a confidential survey of volunteers regarding the effectiveness of Peace Corps programs and staff and the safety of volunteers;
  3. Establish and maintain a process to protect confidentiality and safety of volunteers reporting incidents and the information reported and to ensure that such information is acted on appropriately; and
  4. Determine the level of access to communication, including cellular and Internet access, of each volunteer.

S. 1280 would prohibit the Director from:

  1. Disclosing personally identifying information or personal information of a volunteer who is a victim of assault collected in connection with services requested, utilized, or denied through Peace Corps programs; or
  2. Revealing such information without the informed, purpose-limited, and reasonably time-limited consent of such volunteer about whom such information is sought.

Background

The Peace Corps is an independent U.S. government agency that provides trained volunteers for countries requesting assistance around the world.  The organization has 8,665 volunteers serving in 77 countries.  During the last 10 years, Peace Corps volunteers have reported an average of 22 rapes and 267 assaults per year.  These statistics far outstrip national averages, according to a 2008 report by the Department of Justice.  Disturbingly, Peace Corps data suggest twice as many assaults occur than are reported.  In recent years, the Peace Corps has been accused of mismanaging sexual assault complaints and being inconsistent in responding to reports of violence against volunteers.

In 2009, Kate Puzey, a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Benin, was murdered after reporting her suspicions that a colleague was sexually harassing and sleeping with female students at the school where she taught.  This legislation is named in her honor.  S. 1280 would provide whistleblower protection for Peace Corps volunteers, a safeguard that is currently in place for federal employees but not for Peace Corps volunteers.  S. 1280 is intended to enhance Peace Corps' sexual assault policy, protect the confidentiality of Peace Corps volunteers, and codify recent steps the Peace Corps has taken in support of the safety and security of its volunteers.

Cost

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Peace Corps “has indicated that it already complies or is in the process of complying with most of the requirements under the bill.”  CBO estimates that “implementing the remaining requirements would cost $1 million a year and total $5 million over the 2012-2016 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts.”  Enacting S. 1280 would not affect direct spending or revenues, therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.