Cover Image
close this bookPersonal Safety in Cross-Cultural Transition (Peace Corps)
close this folderUnit two: Rape and personal safety
close this folderSession II: In-country design on rape and personal safety
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAttachment A: Developing a critical incident for session II, step 3b.
View the documentAttachment B: Sample situations for step 9.b
View the documentAttachment C: Case study on AMY
View the documentAttachment D: Role play: Supporting a rape victim
View the documentPeace corps manual section: Sexual assault


RATIONALE: As discussed during the CREST/CAST, people are more at risk when they are in periods of transition, i.e., moving, travelling, or settling into a new environment. Now that trainees have been in-country and have had the opportunity to learn more about the host country culture they are better able to formulate concrete country specific strategies for dealing with their personal safety.

These strategies will better equip them to prevent specific situations such as theft, robbery, and sexual assault. These are not, however, the only situations Volunteers find to be difficult and possibly threatening. There are awkward and stressful situations which often involve personal and professional relationships. Volunteers often find these are not prevented by taking obvious precautions; instead, they are best dealt with by understanding the cultural aspects of the situations and by personal behavior that is assertive and consistent.

This session helps trainees develop concrete preventive strategies while also developing skills for handling problematic social situations. In addition trainees will look at non-verbal behavior which might be inconsistent with their verbal messages, and might influence how they are perceived by their communities.

TOTAL TIME: 3 hours


- To provide trainees an opportunity to look at their new living situation and identify strategies for personal safety in this new environment.

- To look at behaviors and how they might be interpreted in different cultures.

- To increase the trainees' understanding of the emotional needs and reactions of a rape victim.

- To develop effective ways to handle situations which are typically difficult for Volunteers.

- To provide country-specific information on what to do in the event personal assault does occur.


1. Review session and attached handouts so you are comfortable with the content.

2. If you are not familiar with Assertiveness Training, you should read several of the background articles and/or books recommended so that you will be able to respond to questions and provide examples for the session.

3. Brief other trainers/staff on their roles and expected session outcomes. Be sure to help them develop the role play situation if you choose to do it.

4. Review handouts 3 and 4 to ensure that they are appropriate as country-specific critical incidents for Step 3.b. If you decide to develop your own see Attachment A for Guidelines.

5. Develop 5-7 one-sentence situations for Step 3.f (see samples, Attachment B).


Country-specific critical incident
Country-specific situation statements
"Case Study on Amy"., Attachment C
"Role Play: Supporting a Rape Victim",
Attachment D (optional)
Markers/flipchart paper


Session Goals


"Advice to New Volunteers. (handout 1) Critical incidents (developed or modified by you/country staff) (handouts 2 and 3) "Common Reactions to Rape" (handout 4) Assertive Rights (handout 5) Role Play (optional)


Introduction to Session

1.a. Introduce the session, making the following point:

[5 min]

- They began to look at rape during their pre-departure training. This session is a an effort to provide them with more specific information on how to deal with this issue in their new environment.

1.b. Read the goals of the session from a prepared newsprint. Ask if there are any questions.

Looking at Strategies for Personal Safety

2.a. Ask trainees to reflect back on the CAST/CREST session in which they talked about rape. Remind them that one of the goals was to think of ways to reduce their personal risk. Link the next step to their site visits and knowledge of the host country.

[10 min]

2.b. Ask them to identify, based on their knowledge of the country, times and situations when they are most at risk, e.g., traveling on public transportation. List these on a flipchart.

Sample Flipchart

- Traveling on public transportation
- Walking on the street in major cities
- Looking for a house
- First time in market
- Arriving to new site late in evening
- Meeting new people

TRAINERS' NOTE: This exercise may be done in one group or several small groups, depending on the number of participants.

Appropriate Precautions to Take

2a. Ask participants to think of specific steps they can take to reduce the risk in each of the situations they listed. Encourage them to be as specific as possible.

Examples of steps:
- When traveling on buses, be familiar with the schedules.
- When walking on the street, look like you know where you are going. If lost, don't review the map on the street, go into a cafe or store.

2b. Summarize by explaining that these are precautions that are appropriate in the U.S. as well. If done in small groups, have the groups post the lists and discuss the similarities and differences in strategies.

2c. Distribute handout 1 as a summary of advice given by PCVs to new PCVs.

Handling Problematic Social Situations

3a. Remind participants that in CAST we mentioned two types of assault - stranger and acquaintance. These concrete security measures deal with the stranger type of personal assault. However, assault by an acquaintance is not as easily avoided using these precautions. Instead, trainees may be required to set personal limits, say no and be aware on verbal and nonverbal communication. This involves balancing their desire to be culturally sensitive with the ability to assert themselves when appropriate.

[5-10 min]

3b. Distribute and have participants read the two critical incidents, handouts 2 and 3.

3c. Lead a discussion on the following questions:
- How might they feel in the same situation?
- How might they handle it?
- How might they prevent it?

TRAINERS' NOTE: The situations result from the Volunteers' inability to effectively set limits on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This involves being able to assert themselves. Elicit this information from trainees and use it to bridge to next step.

Reasons Why We Do Not Assert Ourselves

4a. Explain that had Joe and Julie (characters in the critical incident) been able to say no without feeling guilty, or been able to explain what was important for them, the situation may not have grown to be so awkward.

4b. Share with participants some of the reasons why Joe, Julie, and all of us may have difficulty asserting ourselves.
- not wanting to hurt someone's feelings
- wanting to fit in/be accepted
- different expectations
- feeling inferior
- mixed messages being given
- self-doubts
- not knowing how to
- not wanting to appear rude/angry

4c. Have trainees summarize the results/ consequences of not being assertive.

TRAINERS' NOTE: If you are not familiar with this material, read some of the recommended articles so that you will be able to explain this to participants.

Assertion vs. Aggression

5a. Explain that there are three ways of handling situations: non-assertively, assertively and aggressively. Each one may be appropriate in certain situations. However, the Volunteer needs to know which one is most appropriate for different situations, and how to act in these different ways.

[10-15 min]

5b. Explain that there is a difference between asserting oneself and acting aggressively. Many people think that if they are assertive they will be perceived as assertive. Briefly explain the differences:

ASSERTIVE: Describes occasions in which individuals stand up for themselves in ways that do not violate others' rights. It means respecting oneself, valueing oneself and treating oneself with as much intelligence, consideration and goodwill as any human being deserves.

NON-ASSERTIVE: Giving up one's rights in deference to others.

AGGRESSIVE: Occurs when people stand up for their rights in ways that violate other's rights. Usually results in a put-down of others.

5c. Have participants provide examples of each type of behavior to ensure they recognize the difference.

TRAINERS' NOTE: Participants may feel that aggressive behavior is appropriate in some situations. This is true; however, they should be made aware of the consequences of aggressive behavior as well as non-assertive behavior. Demonstrate that if they wish to maintain, or if they must maintain, a relationship with the person assertive behaviors may be more appropriate. Aggressive behaviors tend to terminate or detract from establishing a mutually respectful ongoing relationship.

5d. Share the handout on Assertive Rights and ask for any reactions.

[5 min]

5e. Explain that these concepts are universal. People can be assertive, nonassertive or aggressive in any culture. The components of being assertive may change from culture to culture.

5f. Ask participants to review Joe/Julie's situations and discuss how they might handle the situations assertively.

TRAINERS' NOTE: You can have participants role-play the situations with host country input on how they would be received. Be supportive to the Volunteers who role-play and be willing to show how the situations could be handled assertively.

[15 min if you include role play]

Non-Verbal Behaviors: Their Impact on Credibility and Safety

TRAINERS' NOTE: This section looks at some behaviors which may be sending undesirable messages in a new culture. It is important for trainees to look at their behavior and understand what they may be telling others about themselves. It is CRUCIAL, however, that this session not result in blaming a victim because of personal behaviors. Remember that rape, whether it is committed by a stranger or an acquaintance, is an act of violence. Victims are not to be blamed, they are to be supported.

6a. Stress the need for non-verbal messages which are consistent with the assertive verbal messages. If a Volunteer is telling someone that he or she does not want to sleep with them, and yet his/her body language or social behavior is incongruent with this message, then the self-assertion is less effective.

Body language and social behavior can only be congruent if Volunteers are aware of what certain behaviors may mean in any given culture. Interpretation of a behavior may be culture-specific.

6b. Explain that participants will now look at some behaviors and how they may be interpreted in the host country.

Have a list of behaviors which may be acceptable in the U.S., but which give off unwanted messages in the host country. (These should be developed by host country representatives. See Attachment A).

TRAINERS' NOTE: These situations need to be very brief (one sentence), and country specific. They are to be given to the trainees as examples of behavior that they may exhibit and which they should reconsider in light of a better understanding of the host culture's interpretation of these behaviors. See Attachment B at the end of the unit for examples of these situations.

Read the citations and lead a discussion of the following:

[30 min]

Where would these situations be acceptable?

How might these behaviors be interpreted in this culture - HC culture - (have country staff help interpret this). It is important to have HCNs discuss whether there are also things host country women avoid doing.

How would you feel about changing your behaviors in these situations if you thought some of them were culturally inappropriate?

How can you determine which behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate?

TRAINERS' NOTE: Trainees must be aware that they may need to change behaviors and that in some cases this will involve changing behaviors they have struggled to develop, i.e., independent behaviors. When thinking about modifying these behaviors, it is important for them to recognize the choice involved. Stress that if they choose to modify their behavior they do so knowing that it is a temporary change that will increase their integration into the community; it does not mean a permanent change or a compromise in their self-image or esteem. Should they not feel comfortable making some adjustments in their behavior, they need to weigh the consequences of their behavior and determine if they wish to live for 2 years in this new culture.

They have an equal right not to assert themselves or to act aggressively if they feel the need. Again, these behaviors cost the Volunteer something -- people will come to mistrust them, not value their company, etc., if they use these behaviors consistently.

If a Personal Assault Does Occur

7.a. Remind trainees that all of these strategies and security measures are meant to reduce the risk of personal assault; they are not guaranteed to prevent it. It is good to take precautions; it is equally important to know what to do if something does occur.

7.b. Tell participants that you have a case study you want to read to them. Explain that it is a situation in which a female Volunteer is raped and afterwards seeks help from a friend.

7.c. Read the case study, Attachment C, aloud.

7.d. After a moment's reflection ask the trainees to break into small groups and discuss the following:

[5-10 min]

What were your responses to this account? What thoughts came into your mind as you imagined these events?

How would you respond if you were the friend who was helping Amy? What would you offer as support?

7.e. Bring the group back together and ask for a few of the initial reactions to the situations.

[5 min]

7.f. Ask the group if they thought Amy's actions were typical for rape victims. Have trainees read handout 4.

[5 min]

7.g. Stress that the needs are both emotional and physical. It is important to seek support after any personal assault. Talking with someone makes it easier to deal with the situation and sort out what you want to do. Personal friends or country staff are there to support you.

7.h. Now that they have a better understanding of what a rape victim may be feeling and may want in terms of support, ask them to think about how they answered the previous question - How would you respond if you were the friend who was helping Amy?

7.i. Ask the trainees if they feel their initial responses would have been appropriate? How would they change their responses to be more supportive of Amy?

7.j. Remember when supporting victims of assault that they are not to be blamed. They need immediate comfort, reassurance, and help in deciding what to do. Make sure you are both safe and then help the person begin to deal with the situation. You may want to reinforce the need for immediate medical attention.

(See Attachment D)

[25 min] optional

Instead of Step 7.d. above, have two staff members who are comfortable with the situation role-play providing support to a rape victim. ( The PCMO may be helpful in this situation.) They should first role-play the situation where the friend is not supportive. After this situation ask the trainees how the friend could have been more supportive.

From the information offered by the trainees, do a second role play showing the friend as very supportive and helpful.

Discuss the differences and how Amy might have felt during the second role play. Continue on with Step 8.

8.a. Close the session by outlining any country-specific services or policies for dealing with rape. Stress the PCMO's availability and interest in supporting anyone who experiences an assault.

[10 min]

8.b. Summarize that trainees have lived with the threat of personal assault all of their lives in the U.S. This session was intended to give them some information on how to deal with this issue in their new environment, it was not meant to imply that they were now more at risk. Once they integrate into their communities they will find support systems similar to their own back home -- neighbors who watch out for you and friends to talk over situations you do not understand.

8.c. Ask the trainees to quietly reflect on what they have learned from today's session and how they will use this information. If some are willing, have them share what they have learned.