So I've been reading, researching...and learning that ABC News only exposed the tip of the iceberg. This tendency of the Peace Corps to downplay, misdirect, and sweep things under the rug has been going on for decades, and a number of women have paid for it with their bodies, their peace of mind, and in some instances their lives...Later, in the comments, she adds (I'm reposting this because I think it's worth highlighting):
I hope this goes somewhere because just like the women who serve in the military, the women who serve in the Peace Corps deserve our utmost protection from rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. If it's happening, we need to stop it. If it's being covered up, we need to find and expose examples. And if we want more women to sign up, we have to make sure they know all the facts, not just what looks and sounds good.
I hope the Congressional hearings move forward. I hope the Peace Corps makes the necessary changes to protect every single volunteer, female and male alike. In two years, I hope -- no, I want and expect -- to send my daughter off to the Peace Corps with pride. And without the slightest bit of hesitation on her part...or mine.
My call for “stopping all rape in the Peace Corps” is part of a larger call for stopping all rape. Period. As I write this, it’s Valentine’s Day, and many women observe this as V-Day, Eve Ensler’s global movement to stop violence against women and girls.Emphasis mine. I replied:
No level of rape is acceptable, ever.
You obviously wouldn’t want to be sexually assaulted or raped, since you stated in your blog that you’re glad to be male in South Africa. Thus you recognize the risks your fellow female PCVs face that you yourself are untroubled by. It’s odd then to hear you express the view that stopping rape “would mean shutting down all programs in those countries.” because you’re suggesting that it’s okay to put women at risk as long as they’re doing good for others. Does that mean that women are worth the risk but men are not?
Those programs wouldn’t necessarily be shut down if you had in mind protecting women at all costs. Those programs could certainly continue if the majority of volunteers were males, and they could also continue to be staffed by women IF THOSE WOMEN ARE TOLD OPENLY ABOUT ALL INHERENT RISKS and they agree to go WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE.
Be open. Be forthright. But don’t play fast and loose with a woman’s life or her sense of safety and security. The crime takes only minutes, but the emotional scars last a lifetime. Doesn’t that woman deserve to know the truth about her commitment?
But again, there is no cover-up on the agency-wide level. The safety and security officials here in South Africa have been forthright and open about the assaults, rapes, and harassment here and in neighboring countries from the beginning of training. There are a lot of problems with Peace Corps administration here, but they never tried to lie to us about the dangers of rape and sexual assault.It's hard for me to write about these things because for one, I'm a man. Every story on sexual assault of any kind brings out the worst kind of toxic male douchebags (see here, for example, and even some of the comments on Linda's post), and I desperately want to avoid the faintest whiff of such filth. Second, writing about sexual assault and rape inevitably makes me consider the possibility of my female friends and family suffering such an attack, and (even for a hypothetical case) I am filled with a revulsion and hatred so intense that I can scarcely think straight.
I heartily agree that no rape is acceptable. I would say the same about murder. The optimal level of such crime is zero. But we don’t live in such a world. Some level of rape is (horribly) a given for the foreseeable future, so if you say the maximum level of risk for any female volunteer is zero, then no women would be allowed into any Peace Corps country. The reason that would likely shut down most of the posts is that the large (and growing) majority of volunteers are female. I just returned from training the newest group of South African volunteers, and there were 32 women and 12 men.
But Linda's offhand comment above ("Those programs could certainly continue if the majority of volunteers were males") struck a nerve with me. I was reminded of Echidne's post on the Lara Logan assault. Here she outlines one kind of victim blaming that those aforementioned toxic douchebags tend to engage in:
This experience teaches women that there are jobs women just cannot do. They get raped if they try and should stay at home, reporting on high school football games. I include that example because I came across it three times in the first 200 comments linked to above. Thus, women can be reporters but only about something which doesn't let you advance very far in your career or truly compete with men. And the reason is not the women themselves but what can be done to them by some men. Thus, it is the victim who should pack her bags and go home, while the assaulters don't get told to do that.Now, I don't think Linda was suggesting anything like that, but I think the upshot of her prescription for the Peace Corps is much the same. (I would welcome a clarification. Just to be clear, I think Linda is misguided, not a sexist or a victim-blamer.) Assholes like Peter Schweizer very often respond to stories like Logan's, or the Peace Corps controversy, or violence against journalists in general, by saying something like, "Well, what were you expecting? Of course a blonde babe/white person/etc. is going to be attacked. Don't go overseas if you don't want to be raped." Conor Friedersdorf righteously responds:
If Schweitzer weren't so callous and uninformed about his own profession, he would understand that every editor who sent a journalist to Egypt did do with the sickening knowledge that they might be targeted; that lots of preparation is done and lots of precautions are taken; that many who head out to report these stories do so with a lump in their throat, braving dangerous situations not because they are naive or foolish or unprepared, but because they rightly believe that having eyes and ears on the ground is vital even when it is dangerous, so that reliable information is available (even to sites like Big Government, which link reports from the field, but mostly dishonor the brave men and women who do the work by imposing on it distorted analysis as blinkered as anything you'll find).The female Peace Corps volunteers I know are quite aware that they are taking some risk of rape or assault by joining up (though that risk is not zero back home, a fact that is often lost). It's nothing like the kind of danger repeatedly stared down by Logan, whose courage I can't even begin to imagine, whose stone-cold determination leaves me frankly awestruck, but it is real. They take these risks because they are doing something they consider worthwhile, and that is the right and privilege of every free American.
For more, Kristin has some cogent ideas and criticism here.
UPDATE: Ann Friedman has an excellent post at Feministing with related thoughts.