Peace Corps safety issues

<p>This is a post where I am only stating facts that I saw on CSPAN yesterday....not trying to offend anyone or say that the Peace Corps is bad.... just the facts! </p>

<p>It was the HOUSE FORIEGN AFFAIRS COMITTEE MEETING on Peace Corps Volunteer Safety...</p>

<p>The women who testified were past Peace Corps volunteers.. one was the mother of a young women who was murdered in Benin...I'm sorry that I missed her testimony as I stumbled on the program late in the hour.</p>

<p>The other women had been raped in there respective volunteer sites.. Niger, Bangladesh and Nepal... </p>

<p>Apparently, on average, there are 100 PC volunteers that are raped/year... and this has been going on for years... one women Carol Clark was raped in Nepal 30 years ago.. and her outrage lies in the fact that PC has done NOTHING to ensure the womens safety while they are on site and how rape victims are treated on site and upon their return to the US.</p>

<p>Dr Karestan Koenen who is now an assistant adjunct professor @ Harvard was brutally raped in Niger in 1991... when she was shipped back to DC by PC, on a long international flight, sans supportive escort, she was subjected to a painful exam and belittled by the male doctor and was asked what she had done to bring on such an attack and that PC officials are "sick and tired" of American women going abroad, partying, drinking and having sex and then crying rape.... during this extrememly emotiona/excrutiating internal exam, she was told to calm down and keep quiet..</p>

<p>Jessica Smochek(2004), from the day she arrived @ her PC site in Bangladesh, was verbally harassed.... she reported it to PC site managers, and she and her fellow female volunteers were told to basically suck it up... the harassment escalated to her being thrown to the ground by a group of men and groped/kissed.. her pleas for help again, were ignored by the on site PC staff.. she even went as far to ask for mace/pepper spray... they refused her request... a male volunteer even offered to provide the women @ the site with self defense classes... but PC again, refused....this poor women, was then tragically gang raped by 6 men... she also had foreign objects forced into her body... all the while being beaten and tortured... at one point she states, she begged them to kill her... because the pain was too great to bare.. her ordeal continued when she was accused of placing herself in a situation where she was asking for trouble, had her phone taken away as not to alert her fellow site volunteers and sent back to the states, on a long international flight back to DC... ALONE...
no rape kit was ever done and no statement was given to the authorities @ the PC site. Upon her return to the states, she was subjected to the humiliation of a painful vaginal exam by a male doctor and also haranged/blamed/belittled during questioning... she found out several days later that 3 other women back in Bangladesh had been brutally raped just days after her own harrowing experience... and her site mates had not been told of her rape.... they were lied to and told that she had returned to the states for dental issues.</p>

<p>Needless to say, the congressmen/women were mortified to know that volunteers had been treated in such a manner by PC officials...they will be looking into legislation to change how PC deals with rape victims..and safety issue in general..</p>

<p>I am sure many of you will be sending your college grads off serve for PC and need to know about issues surrounding the safety of your altruistic volunteers..</p>

<p>I hope this helps/encourages folks to ask questions of the PC and to be prepared! I have a daughter who would like to volnteer after college graduation and before she applies to med school... this was a eye opener and I am glad I saw it...</p>

<p>You may be able to see the program.... C-SPAN</a> Video Library.. not sure if its free or not</p>

<p>Peace</a> Corps Volunteer Safety, Part 1 - C-SPAN Video Library</p>

<p>Does she know the actual rape/sexual assault/assault rate of women at her own college?</p>

<p>Well, I think that the big point here is that there was not much support from PC. </p>

<p>(speaking as an RPCV, who fortunately did not encounter this, and also as a mother of a probable future PCV)</p>

<p>@mini,</p>

<p>I did not post this thread to painstakingly discuss rapes on college campuses vs PC rapes...if you read my thread again, it had nothing to do with rapes @ colleges... not to say that those stats are not important... WHAT THE THREAD IS ABOUT is young women who have been brutalized... first in their site country, then being sent back to the US in dire straits.. ALONE, no less and then to be humiliated, denegrated and re victimized, when they arrived here, in the US..... for me, and I am sure for others, the topic is importan( (they even discussed it on CNN late last night)... and I hope it helps those who plan on working with PC....knowledge is power...</p>

<p>I apologize to you for starting a thread to help educate young women and families on this issue!</p>

<p>
[quote]
Does she know the actual rape/sexual assault/assault rate of women at her own college?

[/quote]

And knowing this would help peace corp women who are brutally raped/assaulted how exactly? </p>

<p>I can't think of a more thoughtless thing to say to these women.</p>

<p>@gcmom</p>

<p>Yes! and that it what all the women said... the lack of support... but even the safety videos that they were shown prior to there tour of duty were mediocre at best/patronizing and offered NO help on how to maintain safety... imagine... the poor women @ the bangladesh site, who reported repeated offenses against them and they were told by site managers and site doctors to basicially ignore the harassment and deal with it... as Ms. Smochek and the others stated... the abuse more often than not BEGINS as verbal from the offenders and then ESCALATES to the physical... all the while.. PC turns a blind eye.. offering no assistance to the women... basicially telling the offenders of the harassment/rape that its ok... so sad.</p>

<p>The women also stated that many of the victims do not report rapes d/t fear of how PC would treat them(the blaming/accusing the victim of wrong doing)... and that they feared being re victimzed.. which is often times worse than the original offense.. according the Dr K. Koenen, assistant adjunct psych professor @ Harvard U... who was also raped and treated poorly during her PC experience.</p>

<p>Rape victims everywhere need to be treated with care and compassion...and understanding. This has (sadly) not even been the case here in the states until very recently and is not universally practiced. There continue to be insensitive folks who wrongly assume that all rapes are the fault of the victim.</p>

<p>My DD is a PC volunteer..she says that the PC does extensive in country training that covers safety issues of all kinds...and what to do if there is an issue.</p>

<p>Of course WE hope our daughter does not have any serious problems, but we have advised her that IF she does, she is to contact US IMMEDIATELY and we will fly to wherever she is taken and accompany her to any questioning or medical appointments.</p>

<p>It is terrible when women are raped, sexually assaulted, or assaulted wherever there are! I see no information that suggests to me that the PC handles these situations any better, or any worse, than most colleges or universities, nor any information that suggests that rape of young women in the Peace Corps is any more common than it is among college women in the U.S.</p>

<p>The Peace Corps actually does MUCH more extensive in-country training on safety issues - including sexual assault - than is done on American college campuses. The idea that Peace Corps offers no support for women, both before and after events might occur, is absolutely ridiculous. (And yes, bad things DO happen, as happened TWENTY YEARS AGO to Karestan Koenan.)</p>

<p>It helps very much to know what is happening on American college campuses so that there is a point of comparison, and that attacks on the Peace Corps don't simply degenerate to disguised forms of Third World racism. I know dozens of Peace Corps alumnae women who were NOT raped, or sexually assaulted, or assaulted, who received excellent training and support from the Peace Corps, and continue to do so.</p>

<p>And, yes, it is absolutely terrible when it happens, as, according to one estimate, 1 out every 5 women on an American college campus is raped, sexually assaulted, or assaulted over a four-year period. Most receive no support whatsoever, and fewer than 10% report it. I sincerely doubt that the Peace Corps has rates anything like that.</p>

<p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/us/11corps.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/us/11corps.html&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>I hope the link works.</p>

<p>My PC experience was a formative one for me, as it was for my husband, and probably will be for our daughter. I support PC, but not blindly. Obviously there is room for improvement in their support for those PCVs who are victims of crime, including victims of rape. And I believe that improvement will come as a result of PCVs who are victims of crime coming forward.</p>

<p>I served in the PC in southern Africa in the mid 80s. What you say is no surprise to me. I knew of several rapes of local volunteers while I was serving. (I believe all of them returned to service. I don't believe any of them went back to the US, except one who got pregnant--to get an abortion--This woman was a co-worker of mine and I actually stayed in the house with her where the rape occurred when she returned to the village.) There were also robberies, murder, suicide, a death from rabies, etc. during that time.</p>

<p>What most Americans don't understand about many third world cultures is how common and even "accepted" rape is. I was teaching at a junior high and many of my students had been/were raped. And the shocking thing was that they shrugged it off --and some even laughed about it!-- as just part of being female. </p>

<p>In training, female volunteers were told how to dress (in this country we had to wear dresses/skirts always--never pants or shorts because there, wearing pants was a sign of being a prostitute!) We were told that we shouldn't go out after dark without a male escort, to avoid walking alone at any time. We were told to avoid going to bars and if we did, make sure we were with a group and male escort. Sad to say, many female volunteers (mostly early 20's right out of college, feeling like we owned the world. . .) did not follow these rules. They mistakenly thought that since they were Americans, they could live by American rules. I would never say that anyone "asked" to be raped. However, some of these young women--including my co-worker-- put themselves in dangerous situations that they'd been warned to avoid. If some of the volunteers (male and female) were promiscuous (and quite a few were--this was right before the first cases of AIDS were found there) that gave all of PC a bad reputation.</p>

<p>I was in a "nice" place compared with many volunteer locations. However, the level of sexual harassment that I put up with constantly, even on the job, was something that wouldn't be tolerated in this country. Most men I encountered were going to try to see what they could get--although I was extremely modest and cautious. Still, I was stalked, grabbed/groped (multiple times), kissed, even punched and had men walk into my house, climb in my window, etc. etc. For most of my service, I shared a double house with a very tall British man who knew karate and practiced in the yard...He certainly saved me from even more harassment or worse. (I am still grateful to that friend, just for being there!)</p>

<p>Honestly, the biggest thing I learned in PC is what a burden it is to be female in many parts of the world. And how fortunate I was, since I was born female, to be able to come back to the US.</p>

<p>"And yes, bad things DO happen, as happened TWENTY YEARS AGO to Karestan Koenan"</p>

<p>Why the emphasis on 20 years ago? Are your not familiar with PTSD? A traumatic event that happened 20 years ago could be as traumatic for its victim as the same event that happened a month ago.</p>

<p>Bad things are still happening, FYI - read the NYT article or the Yahoo News link:</p>

<p>Volunteers:</a> Peace Corps insensitive to rapes - Yahoo! News</p>

<p>Mini, I know that you are trying to be an advocate for your causes and I applaud it, but your college-campuses-are-less-safe-than-a war-zone drivel is getting old and does not help to support your causes.</p>

<p>
[quote]
It helps very much to know what is happening on American college campuses so that there is a point of comparison, and that attacks on the Peace Corps don't simply degenerate to disguised forms of Third World racism.

[/quote]

And here was me, thinking we were discussing the issue of how the peace corp treats their volunteers who have been raped, but now I find out that it was actually a thinly veiled racist attack on third world countries. I really need to brush up on my reading comprehension skills.</p>

<p>if mini's third paragraph in comment #8 doesn't make sense to you, then perhaps u do need to "brush up" on your reading comprehension. </p>

<p>it made perfect sense to me, as that is exactly what is happening in this thread.</p>

<p>Ok calimami, if you say so. Did I miss some code words or something? I don't see the third world racism part.</p>

<p>If these young people were employees of a multi-national corporation, how would this have been handled? The comparison to campus security is a non-issue, these are not students, they are employees of a non-profit US backed group.</p>

<p>This is sexism, not racism. Try being a feminist in the third world. You won't get very far. You can't apply American standards/laws in other countries. What is "assault?" I can't confirm this, but I'd guess that every female volunteer I knew was, at the very least, harassed and grabbed multiple times. These things aren't reported because they are part of the culture, part of daily life. Yes, this was 25 years ago. Unfortunately the world hasn't changed that much since then.</p>

<p>I'm appalled to hear that PC would lie about or try to cover up rapes instead of warning other volunteers. Or that they wouldn't have female docs/nurses helping rape victims. (In comparing campus rapes to rapes of PC volunteers, I wonder if the PC rapes would be more likely to be violent, by a stranger, and the victims more likely to have been injured? It seems that way to me, from the cases I know.)</p>

<p>There are many places where a woman needs a man to protect her from other men. Where she can't dress as she chooses, move around the village freely--or even stay in her house-- without being harassed. Where simply going into a bar or drinking a beer in public will label her as "easy" or "asking for it." (Living like this made me think a lot about what it means to be female. . .)
Most of the women in PC are tough, have traveled before, and are not naive. If they weren't adventurous risk takers they wouldn't sign up. But they are young, idealistic, and have a limited understanding of the cultures they are in. And some are reckless. Should PC limit its placement of female volunteers to "safer" areas? You'd still have some women who wouldn't want to be limited, who'd want to go to the more dangerous sites. </p>

<p>PC was certainly a life-changing experience for me. I'd do it again, I guess. But it wasn't all good. I don't think my daughters would want to join PC. (They're not into "roughing it." Intestinal parasites? Who needs them?!) If they expressed interest, I'd try to discourage it--for their health and safety.</p>

<p>This news was truly heart-breaking. At the hearing, the head of the PC apologized and said that things are improving/will improve. Let's hope the PC can drive improvements down throughout the whole organization.</p>

<p>I remember hearing these same stories from adventurous friends who had returned from the Peace Corps back when I was in grad school 20 years ago. I remember thinking about them when I was in the foreign service as well, as I would occasionally hear of a young female foreign service officer being harassed, molested and at least in a couple of cases, raped. At one point, I made a few enemies at the embassy where I was working when I refused to accept housing in a building which felt really unsafe to me. And quite a few people pulled me aside and told me that living and working abroad just basically meant feeling unsafe. I remember feeling pulled in two directions by the fact that being good at one's job sometimes meant travelling alone on dangerous trains, staying alone in hotel rooms that felt unsafe, taking taxis alone at night and feeling unsafe -- and knowing that if I refused assignments, my bosses would just find someone else who would take them and promote him (usually him) instead. There were lots of times I felt scared living in a developing country and worrying about things like what I would do if my car broken down at night on a lonely road and I was alone. And I do remember feeling like there was a double standard: Alot of my older, male bosses routinely asked me to take assignments and trips and do things that they would never, under any circumstances, have permitted their wives or daughters to do. At least twenty years ago, the ethos seemed to be: you made your bed, now lie in it. If you want to play with the big boys, then you need to lose your gender and just be one of the guys, even if it's risker for you to do so.</p>

<p>As I think about it in retrospect, I'd like to suggest that there's a bigger issue which is this: Barack Obama made that statement when he was running for president that "I want all the same opportunities for my daughters that you want for your sons" and I certainly don't ever want there to be a situation where women are told they can't do things because they are too dangerous. But it's also worrisome when programs are put in place that make no allowances for gender, when the people who select housing for PC volunteers or AID workers don't pay much attention to whether or not women can live there safely, when travel assignments and work assignments don't take into account things like safety. I don't know what the answer is -- but I, too, would never let my daughter join the Peace Corps (or probably the foreign service). And come to think of it, I'm sure you can find these issues among women in the military as well.</p>

<p>Very eloquent post Momzie. At least I think it is, you know, my reading comprehension issues and all. We are still talking about sexism, right?</p>

<p>The House hearings grew out of a report by ABC news, which I think you can still access on the internet. </p>

<p>The scariest part of the report was the murder. The Peace Corps was probably responsible for it. While the PC has never admitted responsibility, the in country directo was terminated shortly after the facts came out. </p>

<p>The story is this. A young, female PC volunteer was teaching in a girls school. She became aware that one of the teachers, a young native man, was sexually assaulting the female students. She sent what was supposed to be a secure encrypted email to her superiors about the situation, asking what she should do. The brother of the man she reported worked in the local PC office and read the email. She was murdered soon afterwards--her throat was cut the same way the locals kill goats. It appeared that someone had lured her dog from her home earlier the evening she was killed. </p>

<p>The PC packed up her belongings in a box. It arrived a long time after her death. (I forget the exact time span, but it was quite some time.) The belongings were dropped off in her parents' drive way by a FedEx truck. </p>

<p>No one from the PC ever contacted her parents in any other way. </p>

<p>The local investigation focused at once on the young teacher. Nothing has happened to him. Nobody has been brought to justice for her murder. </p>

<p>Now, do murders remain unsolved in the US? Yes. Do people who report crimes in the US often face retribution, yes. But in this case, at least the way ABC told the story, the PC did everything it could to avoid taking any responsibility for the fact that this young woman was murdered shortly after she sent what was supposed to be an encrypted email to her superiors and it was read by the brother of the man she reported. The PC did remove the in country director--without telling the family it had done so--which suggests that it realized that there was probably a cause and effect between the email which was read by the brother and the PC volunteer's murder. Publicly, however, the PC has simply played CYA.</p>