Peace Corps Sexual Assault Hearings
As some of you may already know, the Peace Corps is the subject of hearings before the Congressional Foreign Affairs committee.
In short, a number of previous volunteers who were victims of sexual assault and/or rape have come forward stating that they were upset with how Peace Corps handled their cases.
While I have nothing to say about their specific cases, I express my condolences to the Volunteers involved and their families.
What I can comment on is my experiences as a current Peace Corps Volunteer. One of the things that has come up in the hearings is that the Peace Corps “blames victims”.
The very nature of Peace Corps requires us to live alone, far away from the American Embassy, Peace Corps staff, or often even a police station. This leaves little choice other than requiring Peace Corps Volunteers to take responsibility for our own safety. Maximizing our safety often means making compromises that would be considered wrong at home in the states–dressing a certain way, not discussing certain topics, not traveling alone, not drinking alcohol. If a volunteer feels they should not have to make these compromises, I do not feel that individual is a good fit for the Peace Corps. People who are not prepared to compromise, or who are not prepared to take full responsibility for themselves in every way, are not people who are going to succeed as Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of safety issues.
While there certainly is a big difference between expecting volunteers to take safety into their own hands and treating volunteers poorly if things go wrong, it would be deadly to the Peace Corps if this onus of safety was removed from the volunteer. The Peace Corps would simply cease to, well…be the Peace Corps if they had to keep an eye on every volunteer 24/7. Pretty much every current Peace Corps site would have to be scrapped, leaving Peace Corps posts to a few places within easy reach of national capitals.
There is maybe more the Peace Corps can do to communicate how dangerous it can be. There also might be merit in giving volunteers more choice about what kind of environment they are placed in. And it sounds like some Peace Corps posts do have truly serious problems. Currently, every country post operates relatively autonomously, and some of this independence is possibly what led to some volunteers being treated badly. Peace Corps could really use a place volunteers can easily turn when their in-country staff let them down.
But given how some of the “reforms” being discussed could cripple the Peace Corps, the fact that the current Director has only be around since 2009 (but I believe all of the accusations predate his taking command), and the fact that the many of the congressional representatives involved are hardcore right-wing Republicans, I can’t help but think this is a disguised hatchet job, and that these Congressmen are using these assault victims as a roundabout way of attacking the Peace Corps.
Sure, the Peace Corps isn’t perfect. But when people like Ted Poe, who believes rape victims should be denied abortions, are suddenly crusading for women’s rights something disingenuous is probably going on.