Jan 14, 2011

Rape in Peace Corps

The big news rocketing around Peace Corps is ABC's story on rape:
More than 1,000 young American women have been raped or sexually assaulted in the last decade while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in foreign countries, an ABC News 20/20 investigation has found.

In some cases, victims say, the Peace Corps has ignored safety concerns and later tried to blame the women who were raped for bringing on the attacks...

"I have two daughters now and I would never ever let them join the Peace Corps," said Adrianna Ault Nolan of New York, who was raped while serving in Haiti.

In the most brutal attack, Jess Smochek, 29, of Pennsylvania was gang raped in Bangladesh in 2004 by a group of young men after she says Peace Corps officials in the country ignored her pleas to re-locate her.

She says the Peace Corps immediately began to cover up what happened to her, fearful, she says, of offending officials in Bangladesh.

 "When the decision was made that I was to go to Washington, D.C., I was told to tell volunteers that I was having my wisdom teeth out," Smochek says. [...]

"There isn't a point person or an advocate or someone who is managing the case," said Casey Frazee of Cincinnati, Ohio who was sexually assaulted in South Africa in 2009. She has established a support group and website for other Peace Corps victims, First Response Action.

"No one is really looking at this because there's this over-idealized picture of the JFK Peace Corps," said Frazee. 
In a purely selfish sense, I am constantly thankful for being male in South Africa. The way women are treated here is nothing short of grotesque, and female volunteers routinely endure public sexual harassment that would usually earn the offenders a savage beating in the US. I don't even witness the worst of it, because (as the single girls will tell you) even the presence of another male volunteer drastically reduces the attention.

I can't speak to the individual situations, and if these stories have even a grain of truth there were some unforgivable failures from Peace Corps. But my own perception has doesn't quite jibe with ABC's portrayal of a culture of cover-ups reaching to the highest administrative levels. At our MST recently, the regional safety and security official—responsible for most of sub-Saharan Africa—came and spoke about a rape that had happened in Lesotho and what he had done about it.

Again, I can't speak to the specific instances mentioned, and I am in no way casting aspersions on these rape survivors.  I whole-heartedly support Casey Frazee's support group.  Yet it seems to me the problem again lies more on the medical side—in support and counseling for survivors, especially post-service—than on the safety and security side.  Peace Corps administration varies throughout the world, and clearly the situation in Bangladesh was beyond the pale.  But the safety and security apparatus in South Africa is about the only part of the Peace Corps here that I would say is running fairly well.

1 comment:

  1. Western women are so spoiled by the laws and high standard of living that they think they can travel around the world not expecting the worse. Unfortunately, this is not the case and my fellow Western women must realize that they are still women after all. No disrespect.