October 26, 2003 - Atlanta Journal Constitution: Dayton Daily News Editor responds to Peace Corps' letter, says perils faced by volunteers need to be reported

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: October 26, 2003: Dayton Daily News reports on Peace Corps Safety and Security: Archive of Primary Source Stories: October 26, 2003 - Atlanta Journal Constitution: Dayton Daily News Editor responds to Peace Corps' letter, says perils faced by volunteers need to be reported

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-165-54.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.165.54) on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 2:38 am: Edit Post

Dayton Daily News Editor responds to Peace Corps' letter, says perils faced by volunteers need to be reported





"... research discloses that violence against volunteers is commonplace; since 1991, reports of assaults have more than doubled. Mortality rates among volunteers are surprisingly high with accidents, disease, suicide and murder claiming lives at a rate of about one every two months. Nearly 70 percent of the assaults are committed against female volunteers, who comprise a majority of the Peace Corps," says the editor of the Dayton Daily News.


Read and comment on this commentary from the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Dayton Daily News Editor Jeff Bruce who says that research by their reporters discloses that violence against volunteers is commonplace, that since 1991, reports of assaults have more than doubled, that mortality rates among volunteers are surprisingly high with accidents, disease, suicide and murder claiming lives at a rate of about one every two months and that the agency's database catalogs "incidents" and "events" and not the number of victims in those incidents so for example, when in 1996 three female volunteers were raped and two men were mugged, the Peace Corps reported it as a single rape "incident."

Quote:

This method of collecting statistics does not correspond with how law-enforcement agencies like the FBI report crime rates, and it tends to mask the true level of danger to which Peace Corps volunteers are exposed. In a separate e-mail received prior to publication of the series (and on the same day Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced his resignation), press secretary Barbara Daly went further and asserted: ". . .The assault database should never be considered a database to count crimes against volunteers. We do not have a database that counts crimes against volunteers or even crime events against volunteers." Which raises the obvious question: Why not?


Is this how the Peace Corps compiles it's statistics on crime rates against volunteers and if so, does this method of reporting incidents provide an accurate reflection of the dangers faced by volunteers in the field? Read the story and the rest of the reports in coming days and leave your comments at:

Perils faced by volunteers need to be reported*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Perils faced by volunteers need to be reported

Commentary by Jeff Bruce

Dayton Daily News Editor

For more than 40 years, the Peace Corps has dispatched tens of thousands of Americans to far-flung places across the globe to spread good will. Many former volunteers point to their time overseas as a pivotal experience in shaping the direction of their lives.

Indeed, since its inception, the Peace Corps has generally been viewed favorably by the public, which sees its mission as a noble extension of what is best about America.

But while the organization takes some pride in being "the toughest job you'll ever love," it has proven for hundreds of volunteers to be a far more dangerous and disturbing experience than is generally perceived.

It is a part of the Peace Corps story that has been underreported, but needs to be told. We do that beginning today in our series of articles entitled "Casualties of Peace."

President George W. Bush has proposed doubling the number of Peace Corps volunteers. What will they be getting into? We decided to find out.

For the past 20 months, reporters from this newspaper have traveled to 11 countries, interviewed more than 500 people and filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to better understand some of the perils facing Peace Corps volunteers.

Their research discloses that violence against volunteers is commonplace; since 1991, reports of assaults have more than doubled. Mortality rates among volunteers are surprisingly high with accidents, disease, suicide and murder claiming lives at a rate of about one every two months. Nearly 70 percent of the assaults are committed against female volunteers, who comprise a majority of the Peace Corps.

Volunteers, stationed in some of the most troubled corners of the world may be unsupervised for months at a time, and warnings about volunteer safety have too often gone unheeded.

In an accompanying letter on this page, H. David Kotz, Peace Corps associate general counsel, wrote in advance of publication of our series about his concerns regarding "inaccuracies and misleading information." The organization has strenuously objected to this newspaper's analysis of the Peace Corps' safety record.

In essence, the agency's database catalogs "incidents" and "events" and not the number of victims in those incidents. So, for example, when in 1996 three female volunteers were raped and two men were mugged, the Peace Corps reported it as a single rape "incident."

This method of collecting statistics does not correspond with how law-enforcement agencies like the FBI report crime rates, and it tends to mask the true level of danger to which Peace Corps volunteers are exposed.

In a separate e-mail received prior to publication of the series (and on the same day Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced his resignation), press secretary Barbara Daly went further and asserted:

". . .The assault database should never be considered a database to count crimes against volunteers. We do not have a database that counts crimes against volunteers or even crime events against volunteers."

Which raises the obvious question: Why not?

Kotz also argues in his letter that it would be incorrect for the newspaper to assert that the Peace Corps "was not appropriately responsive" to requests for information.

In truth, one of the reasons it has taken nearly two years to tell this story is because of the Peace Corps' foot-dragging. It took a lawsuit to pry free much of the information sought by reporters, and it has been only in the past few weeks that questions (submitted in writing) have begun to be answered. Even then, many answers have been incomplete. The lawsuit was dismissed when the Peace Corps agreed to provide the information we sought.

Regarding the death of Brian Krow (detailed in part four of this series), a Ukrainian prosecutor has told the Daily News that the Peace Corps was uncooperative in the investigation and that new information brought to them by our reporters now leads them to believe he may have committed suicide despite the Peace Corps' finding.

Kotz also asserts that because the newspaper looked into the carjacking of Christine Djondo in Lesotho (part three of this series) she had to be transferred. We did, in fact, inquire about the incident. It is unclear how that would put her in danger. Her transfer occurred nearly two years after the hijacking.

The Peace Corps also accuses the newspaper of providing misinformation to Paul Leveille, the father of deceased former Peace Corps volunteer Kevin Leveille. The assertion is simply untrue. Leveille has refuted it and has told the newspaper that he is supportive of our efforts to tell this story.

Finally, Kotz points to the Peace Corps' legacy. No doubt, many, perhaps most, Americans who have served in the organization remember their experience with pride.

But not all. There are more than 250 volunteers who cannot talk to us, because they perished during their service. Many more, whose experiences are recounted in "Casualties of Peace," are embittered and disenchanted.

Their stories deserve to be told, too.

Jeff Bruce is the editor of the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at 225-2335. If you'd like to send him an electronic letter, include your name, e-mail address and daytime phone number. His Internet address is jbruce@DaytonDailyNews.com.



Dayton Daily News says Peace Corps manipulates crime victim numbers





Instead of counting victims of crimes, the agency counts 'incidents' and then compares that number to the amount of time volunteers spend in a country ignoring that many incidents have multiple victims. The effect is a rate that is artificially low. In 1996, three female volunteers were raped and two male volunteers were assaulted by a group of armed men in El Salvador, but the event was recorded as a single rape 'incident' in the agency's Assault Notification and Surveillance System database," says the Dayton Daily News report.


Read and comment on this story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution that for more than a decade, the Peace Corps has offered an incomplete picture of violence against its volunteers. The agency omits many victims from its published crime statistics and fails to track some serious crimes at all:

Quote:

One problem is the way the agency calculates crime rates. Instead of counting victims of crimes, the agency counts "incidents" and then compares that number to the amount of time volunteers spend in a country ignoring that many incidents have multiple victims. The effect is a rate that is artificially low. In 1996, three female volunteers were raped and two male volunteers were assaulted by a group of armed men in El Salvador, but the event was recorded as a single rape "incident" in the agency's Assault Notification and Surveillance System database.


Barbara Daly, the Peace Corps' press secretary, said the database was not designed to measure crimes against volunteers. "We count all people involved in an event as one event," she says in a written response to the Dayton Daily News. "We do this, not to count crimes against individuals or even to count crime events, but to track trends for purposes of prevention. This is the purpose of the database. This was why it was set up and any other purpose for the database misuses and misrepresents the database."

Does the Peace Corps' method of reporting incidents provide an accurate reflection of the dangers faced by volunteers in the field? Read the story and the rest of the reports in coming days and leave your comments at:


Not every crime victim counts in tracking system*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Not every crime victim counts in tracking system

Corps manipulates crime victim numbers

By Russell Carollo and Elliot Jaspin
From the Dayton Daily News

For more than a decade, the Peace Corps has offered an incomplete picture of violence against its volunteers.

The agency, which didn't collect crime data for analysis during its first 28 years, omits many victims from its published crime statistics and fails to track some serious crimes at all.

One problem is the way the agency calculates crime rates. Instead of counting victims of crimes, the agency counts "incidents" and then compares that number to the amount of time volunteers spend in a country ignoring that many incidents have multiple victims. The effect is a rate that is artificially low.

In 1996, three female volunteers were raped and two male volunteers were assaulted by a group of armed men in El Salvador, but the event was recorded as a single rape "incident" in the agency's Assault Notification and Surveillance System database.

Barbara Daly, the Peace Corps' press secretary, said the database was not designed to measure crimes against volunteers.

"We count all people involved in an event as one event," she says in a written response to the Dayton Daily News. "We do this, not to count crimes against individuals or even to count crime events, but to track trends for purposes of prevention. This is the purpose of the database. This was why it was set up and any other purpose for the database misuses and misrepresents the database."

Dr. A. Russell Gerber, the Peace Corps' chief of epidemiology, said the agency uses its system to identify when and where crimes occur. He said the system has helped the agency reduce the number of major sexual assaults in recent years.

An analysis of the agency's data shows sexual assaults dropped from 113 in 2001 to 94 in 2002. But the 2002 total was still more than double the number of reported sexual assaults in 1991. The data for all assaults shows a 125 percent increase during that span.

However, the actual number of crimes against volunteers is likely much higher. According to the newspaper's analysis, 21 percent of the "incidents" in the Peace Corps' assault database involved more than one volunteer. The database provides enough description to show that a number of those other volunteers were crime victims, too, but the database doesn't describe exactly what happened to all of them.

More than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States participate in a data collection system coordinated through the FBI, which uses a method different from that of the Peace Corps. All victims of so-called "crimes against persons," such as murder, aggravated assault and rape, are included in the FBI's crime statistics. Like the Peace Corps, the FBI doesn't count people victimized of lessor crimes in the single incident, though a new system being developed by the FBI counts all victims in a single incident.

The 1996 incident in El Salvador, counted as one rape by the Peace Corps, would count as three rapes under the FBI system.

Another problem with the Peace Corps system is that it doesn't collect information on certain crimes, including kidnappings and abductions, nor does it track arrests or convictions.

Still another problem is underreporting. Volunteers have unique reasons for not reporting crime, including fear of being moved from their sites. The agency's own auditors and Michael O'Neill, its former security chief, estimate underreporting as high as 50 percent. A 2002 report from the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, found that Peace Corps volunteers did not report 60 percent of rapes and 20 percent of other sexual assaults in 1998.

Even crimes that are reported are not necessarily counted in statistics. Mike Mulvaney and a second volunteer were abducted at gunpoint in Bolivia in January 2001. The country director at the time, Meredith Smith, confirmed that Mulvaney reported the incident to her, and O'Neill confirmed that he spoke to Mulvaney about the abduction. But the incident doesn't appear on the agency's assault database.

O'Neill said Mulvaney should have reported the incident to the medical office. A written response from Peace Corps says the agency has no record the assault was reported.

Peace Corps officials said they are considering changes to the way they track crime, including counting all victims and tracking arrests and prosecutions.

Staff Writer Mei-Ling Hopgood contributed to this report.




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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Investigative Journalism

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By daniel (0-1pool136-12.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - 63.159.136.12) on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - 1:23 am: Edit Post

But if you reported the incidents the Peace Corps turned on you as a person. "Peace Corps" means the staff people working at Peace Corps during those periods. They made mistakes and we deserve an apology from the institution and just compensation since some of these staffers used these incidents to "leap frog" for themselves, a career with Peace Corps at the expense of volunteers who went through these incidents. That is they stepped on people or volunteers who had these incidents to further their careers over the volunteer's safety and future volunteer's safety.

These are the breeches in safety which really need to be addressed to provide the public with an understanding that these type of behaviors won't happen again. The public still thinks the Peace Corps will act the same no matter how much they layer the bureaucracy because they have not dealt with the past.

They still hold twelve pages under national security in their cover up games each day and have never corrected my case. The FYOI requests are a joke and Peace Corps covers information up, so they can "slander volunteers to the public about their own safety incidents."

Daniel


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