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close this bookPersonal Safety in Cross-Cultural Transition (Peace Corps)
close this folderUnit one: General personal safety
View the documentSession I: Pre-departure design on rape and personal safety
Open this folder and view contentsSession II: In-country design on general personal safety

Session I: Pre-departure design on rape and personal safety

Behavioral Objectives

At the end of this session participants will be able to:

1. Recognize when someone is at risk of being victimized.

2. Identify and discuss five myths concerning rape.

3. Explain to others five common sense precautions that could reduce the risk of rape.

4. Accurately A) evaluate potential risky or problematic situations in their new host country, B) develop strategies for gathering more information pertaining to this topic, and C) note three possible ways of avoiding potentially dangerous situations.

RATIONALE: Personal safety is a subject which most of us have thought about and discussed with others. Trainees come from a variety of backgrounds and some are more aware than others of when and where their personal safety may be put in jeopardy. Many may not be as aware of the risks to their personal safety or of strategies for reducing these risks.

All trainees, regardless of their background in this area, will be entering a new culture and need to think about how they can take care of themselves both physically and emotionally. When entering a new environment trainees are suddenly engulfed by new sounds, sights, and ways of doing things. Even the smallest task, which in a familiar environment might be accomplished with minimal effort, becomes a major task, causing the trainee a good deal of frustration and anxiety. Under these conditions trainees who may normally be very cautious and aware of personal safety, may find they do not give adequate attention to it. This distraction may increase risks and place trainees in uncomfortable or harmful situations.

The purpose of this session is to help trainees with the process of increasing their awareness and building personal strategies for dealing with situations which may occur. Trainees will begin to look at safety situations during pre-departure training, traveling, and entering in-country training. It is important to note that we are not providing the trainees with a session on how to prevent an assault; there is no blueprint of how that can be done. Instead we are helping them recognize steps they can take which may reduce the chances of a personal assault.

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 min

- To increase participants' awareness of personal safety in the U. S. and the host country.
- To begin to develop strategies, guidelines, and attitudes that may reduce the risk

1. Familiarize yourself with handout 2
"Volunteers" Advice to New Volunteers"

2. Brief country staff or RPCVs on their roles and responsibilities during the optional step covering country-specific information (Step 4b).
3. Review the critical incident (handout 1).

1. Copies of the critical incident to be used.
2. Newsprint and markers.

Critical Incident (handout 1)
"Volunteers" Advice to New Volunteers.
(handout 2)


Opening Statement & Goals

[5 min]

1a. Remind trainees that they have been discussing "leavetaking" and entering a new culture. In part this involves learning how to take care of themselves in new social and work situations.

Literature shows that people are more vulnerable during periods of transition or in unfamiliar situations -- they are less attentive to normal precautions and are unsure of how best to protect themselves.

When trainees leave home and enter training they are embarking upon just such an experience; they do not know the city where they are staging, they may not be familiar with or comfortable in large airports, taxis, hotels, or living in a foreign country.

At the same time trainees usually have a strong desire to "fit in" and to be culturally sensitive. In fact, it is this desire which in part helps them to be effective Volunteers.

It is important, however, that Volunteers not carry this desire to an extreme, ignoring common-sense precautions and thereby making themselves more vulnerable.

During this session we will be looking at some safety situations which could occur and how to balance cultural sensitivity with common-sense precaution.

1b. Read prepared session goals.


[5-10 min]

2a. Mention that by virtue of living in the U. S. most of us are acutely aware of the risks we face on a daily basis. Ask them to quickly list the types of assaults they fear here in the U. S. Record their responses on newsprint.

TRAINER'S NOTE: You will be using this in Step 4a, so be sure they include verbal assault, theft, rip-off, con artist etc.

Ask them how their sense of safety has changed being in a new city for training. Do they feel less secure? Do they feel unsure of whom to trust? Or do they feel more secure?

2b. Explain that feeling a bit less secure in a new environment is natural. Most of us feel safer in our own home towns simply because we know our neighbors, we know which streets are "safe," we have our dogs, locks or home security systems and we know whom to call in case of an emergency. If they were to stay long enough in this city they would learn these same "cultural norms" of safe behavior. However, until they learn these norms they should be very aware of their environment and take precautions to reduce the likelihood of suffering a personal assault.


3a. Stress that there are obviously unpredictable or uncontrollable situations, i.e., unexplainable assaults, but there are precautions most of us can take to reduce the risks we face.

[30 min]

3b. Ask participants to break into two groups (more if the group is too large to work productively), and read and complete the critical incident. They should prepare their advice on newsprint.

3c. Have participants post and compare their advice. Point out similarities and differences; do not go into a lengthy discussion, as this will be done in Step 4c when the country staff representative discusses country-specific information.

3d. Lead a discussion on the following:

[10 min]

- "How did it feel to be giving someone advice on how to be safe in your country?"
- "How were they more at risk than you are?"
- "How much of this advice have you internalized and done unconsciously?"
- "What of this advice is appropriate for you while you are in staging?"


4a. Post the original list of types of assaults trainees fear in the U. S. Ask the following:

[15 min]

- "Which, if any, of these assaults do you think occur in the host country?"
- "Do you think you will be more or less secure in the host country? Why?"
- "How will the HCN image of Americans influence your personal safety?.
- "On what do you base this? "

4b. Have the country staff representative discuss briefly the problems or lack of problems Volunteers have experienced in-country.

TRAINER'S NOTE: This activity needs to be well prepared with the country staff and presented in a manner that does not offer horror stories or unnecessarily frighten the participants.

4c. Have the country staff representative review the advice given by participants and discuss what, if any, is appropriate for them in the host country.


[5-10 min]

5a. Stress that just as they may not want people coming to this country to think they should mistrust everyone and lock themselves in their house, you do not want them to feel unduly fearful or suspicious of their host country nationals. Instead you want them to recognize that, like here, there are good and bad situations and people that they should learn to recognize and avoid. This does not mean they should be culturally rude or insensitive; they need to learn how to balance precaution with cultural sensitivity.

5b. Ask them how they think they can learn to do this. Whom should they talk with when in-country?

5c. Close with any questions they may have and, if appropriate, explain what follow-up sessions there will be in-country.

5d. Distribute the handout 2 on Volunteers Advice to New Volunteers".

TRAINER'S NOTE: This information is offered to stimulate the participants' thinking about entering their new situation. Encourage them to anticipate their concerns when they enter their host country - how do HCN feel about security, what precautions do they take or not take, what have Volunteers found to be the best precautions, etc.


RATIONALE: As discussed during the CREST/CAST people are more at risk when they are in periods of transition, i.e., moving, traveling, or settling into a new environment. Trainees began to look at their own personal safety and to generate strategies for prevention. Now that trainees have had some experience with the new country, the culture, and hopefully their sites, 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: 2 hours

- To provide trainees with an opportunity to look at their new living situations and identify strategies for personal safety.
- To develop effective ways to handle situations which are typically difficult for Volunteers.
- To look at behaviors and how they might be interpreted in different cultures.


1. Familiarize yourself with the handouts used in this session.

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 country staff or RPCVs on their roles and responsibilities during the session. In particular they should be ready to provide information on how host country nationals handle difficult situations and how they interpret certain behaviors. They should also provide some illustrative situations.


1. Handouts 1, 2, 3, and 4
2. Newsprint and markers


Opening Statement and Goals

1a. Introduce the session by reminding participants that they started discussing personal safety during the CREST. Review the main points from that session. (See Session I: Pre-Departure Design on General Personal Safety).

[5 min]

1b. Share the goals of the session.

1c. Explain the importance of looking at the country-specific information and making their strategies more appropriate. Link this information to their site visits and preparations for leaving training.

1d. 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.

[5-10 min]

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

[10-15 min]

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 and remember the advice they developed during CREST/CAST.

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. Ask for any comments from participants and bridge to next activity.

2d. Distribute Handout 1 as a summary of advice given by PCVs to new PCVs.

Handling Problematic Social Situations

3a. Explain that some of the situations they may face as Volunteers cannot be handled by putting a lock on the door or knowing the bus schedule. Some of the situations will involve interpersonal relationships which may require them to set personal limits and say no. This involves balancing their desire to be culturally sensitive with the ability to assert themselves when appropriate.

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

[10-15 min]

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 critical incidents) 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.

[10 min]

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 aggressive. Briefly explain the differences:

ASSERTIVE: Describes occasions in which individuals stand up for themselves in we, that do not violate others' rights. It means respecting oneself, valuing 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.

6c. 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.

6d. Share the handout on Assertive Rights and ask for any react ions .

[5 min]

6e. Explain that these concepts are universal. People can be assertive or aggressive in any culture. The components of being assertive may change from culture to culture.

6f. 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 Our Credibility

7a. 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.

7b. 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.

7c. Read these behaviors and lead a discussion on the following points:

- Where would these situations be acceptable?

[30 min]

- 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.


8a. Summarize what they have discussed to this point:
- Safety is a universal concern.
- Precautions and ways of dealing with safety are culturally specific.
- Social and work situations may be difficult or uncomfortable because Volunteers are not asserting themselves and/or they are sending out mixed messages which complicate the situations.
- Volunteers have the right and the power to change whatever behaviors they choose to change. If they do not choose to change, they need to be aware of the possible consequences of those behaviors.

[5 min]

8b. Close by asking participants to think about what they have learned and how it will influence the way they go about settling into their new communities.

Attachment A: Sample situations for step 7.b


The following are sample situations that in some countries would be inappropriate and would inadvertently send undesired messages to HCNs. When developing situation for your country, be sure to 1) keep them short (one or two sentences) and 2) keep them descriptive. They are not rules, but examples of behaviors that Volunteers need to look at and possibly avoid. The trainees should be able to examine the situation for possible non-verbal messages that are being communicated.


1. A female PCV hitchhiking gets into the back of a truck filled with men.

2. A male and female PCV are holding hands while walking downtown.

3. A female PCV lives in a village where a lot of PCVs transfer on their way into the capital. Since this often involves staying overnight, she opens her house to them. As a result she has numerous male Volunteers spending the night at her house.

4. Two female PCVs go to the local bar for a quick drink after work.

5. Several PCVs are dancing and having a good time at the local bar. Some of the women enjoy dancing and have spent the evening dancing and drinking with a couple of the local men.

6. A male PCV goes into the local bar to talk with some friends, and finds he spends the whole evening drinking and joking about women and sex.

7. A female PCV is used to jogging/walking in the early evening hours, so at sunset she takes long walks along the village road.