Peace Corps Safety and Security

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By Donald Pattillo ( - on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 4:05 pm: Edit Post

(Copy of letter I wrote to Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which ran part of the DDN series, but did not publish my letter.)

To the Editor:
As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Macedonia 1999-2001), I read your three installments of the Dayton Daily News series with greater than normal interest. Also, as a former college professor with a good grounding in survey and research techniques, I find myself disturbed by the conclusions of this report. My strong impression is that the reporters began with a conclusion, then gathered allegations and incidents to support their conclusion, rather than the other way around. Their allegation that Peace Corps administration is indifferent to the safety and security of volunteers, or that it sweeps unpleasant incidents under the rug in the fear than full reporting and investigation would hurt recruitment of new volunteers, is dubious. The reality is closer to the opposite, that any assaults or other crimes against volunteers are indeed investigated vigorously, since a failure to do so would bring the full force of the volunteers' outraged families, friends, and probably Congressmen, on the Peace Corps. The last thing Peace Corps wants is a charge that they have failed to protect volunteers, especially young volunteers, in their assignments.
In my experience, safety and security were, if anything, overemphasized. Volunteers were evacuated from Macedonia twice, in 1999 and 2001, as a precaution against violence connected with the political unrest at those times. Many if not most seving volunteers at those times were vocally unhappy with the evacuations, feeling that the Peace Corps was overcautious. I knew of no volunteers who felt personally threatened. Again, the dominant consideration of Peace Corps was to head off any allegations that it had failed to protect volunteers.
With regard to crime, there were a few incidents in Macedonia. One female volunteer had some money stolen on a crowded bus, and a male volunteer suffered a burglary. Several female volunteers reported unwelcome attention, inappropriate sexual remarks, or improper advances, but such things happen everywhere in the world, including in the U.S. Certainly, some female volunteers have become involved in abusive relationships with host country nationals, although I knew of none during my service in Macedonia. Emphasis during my time was that volunteers should report all incidents, regardless of the circumstances, with the assurance that the response would not be judgmental. In the past it was determined that some volunteers had been reluctant to report incidents out of concern that the office would rebuke them if they had been in a bar or nightclub alone, or the incident had involved excessive drinking. We were constantly cautioned to avoid such situations, but there is little the Peace Corps can do if a volunteer simply fails to exercise good judgment.
One homicide of a volunteer is one too many, of course, but a conclusion that twenty homicides over the course of forty-one years, when some 169,000 volunteers have served, means that PC service is dangerous, simply is uninformed. The reporters might consider homicides in the city of Dayton, with a population similar to the number of volunteers who have served, for a single year. Actually, the leading cause of injury and death of volunteers over the history of Peace Corps has been vehicular accidents, a fact that I did not see in the series. During my service, the then-Peace Corps Director, Mark Schneider, visited Macedonia and made that point in particular. That is why volunteers are absolutely prohibited from driving motor vehicles.
There is another allegation that is simply false, that some volunteers are virtually abandoned at remote sites for periods of up to a year. That is impossible. First, there are the required medical checkups, and there are required In-Service Training (IST) sessions, usually two or three a year, in which all volunteers are assembled in a central location for the training. Also, volunteers are alloted 24 days of annual leave. I never knew a volunteer who never took at least some leave during a year. I challenge the reporters to produce a volunteer who was abandoned at a remote site for a year.
The Peace Corps is not a perfect organization. It has made mistakes, and as with any human endeavor, will make others. But the allegation that Peace Corps is indifferent to the safety and security of volunteers simply is uninformed. I developed several differences with Peace Corps policies and practices, but safety and security matters were not among them.

Donald M. Pattillo

p.s.-I realize this leter exceeds your 150-word limit, but I hope you will consider it anyway. Also, feel free to forward this to the Dayton Daily News.

By Anonymous ( on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 7:08 pm: Edit Post

You did'nt have the mid-service training meeting?

By Kristy Lord ( - on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 9:41 pm: Edit Post

I have read your comments and I must remind you that when you say "in reality it is the opposite" remember you speak for PC Macedonia not PC as a whole. I can only communicate my experience with being raped in Bolivia. The reality of that event is that there was an innefective investigation and that 8 other women were raped in or next to taxis in Sucre Bolivia after I was medically seperated in 1998. I know of 2 other PCVs who were assaulted but chose not to report it because they beleived they would be judged and that in some way they were responsible (1 was fondled on a bus by the man sitting next to her, the other was raped in her room by someone she knew). They both supported me and convinced me that I should tell PCMOs.

After I was raped I was let out of the car and ranto my my apt arriving around 5 am. I grabbed the PC volunteer policy book and found the number to the office in La Paz. I had no emergency number to call at 5 am so I waited until 8 am when the office opened (it was later stated in reports that I went to sleep after the rape and called PCMO at my leisure).

There are a lot more cases of PCVs being raped that go unreported. I understand why after what happened to me. It really wasn't worth going through forensics (there was no rape kit in Sucre, PC Dr. took pictures and examined me) I went to DC within 24 hrs to take Anti-HIV meds and receive counseling, I was shown photos and asked to make an ID, when I returned 45 days later to Sucre I underwent a line-up with PCMO translating, months went by to find a lawyer with experience in rape cases then I was told to stay out at my new site. lab results came back 4 months later (from DC) and there was no match. From there the investigation ended. Simultaneously PC started collecting data on my social behavior and soon after I was seperated. I was appauled to read the Medical separation e-mails to/from CD PCMOS, lawyers, my therapist etc all commenting on by social behavior, reports of how I was a burden on other volunteer (my friend and roomate went to counselor and they stated that she was burdened by my demands). I assume they were referring to her feeling unsafe and my asking her to walk with me at night etc. alot of details ended up in the medical reports to DC and none related to the rapist or investigation. I found out later (FIOA suggested by DDN) that the evidence had been destroyed. I also learned that CD and GI office was trying to find a way to clear the man that I had wrongly identified in the line up fearing that PC could be sued.

All this talk about PC policy on safety and security has made me realize that in my case, I wasn't aware of any policies being applied. My case was handled soley by the PCMOs and DC with very little involvedment by CD Mimi Smith. I spent less than 10 hrs tolal with investigators, PC authorities, and my lawyer. Not enough was done! I haven't heard anything from any member of PC since my MED SEP in 98. I learned more info about why my case was closed last year when I received my files.

I really wish you hadn't brought up "good judgement" bars, discos and drinking. It doesn't matter! I went to a disco the night I was raped. I wan't drinking. I expected the taxi driver to bring me home, he didn't. I really feel that what contributed to the event was that I didn't think I was in danger. I wasn't aware that I was a target. Most PCVs serving feel that they are part of a community because they live with locals. They feel that they are safe because they are NOT tourists. this is false. Americans are seen as tourists, we operate alone in a culture who's values are completely different than our own. Single independant women are not respected for being so. Mothers and the family are respected. Increasingly, American values of independance and individualization puts us in danger when we try to apply them overseas. We feel courageous and invinceable but we are at risk. This is how PCVs use bad judgement. Sometimes drinking and dancing help PCVs to integrate into the local culture especially in Bolivia where drinking is part of everyday life. We would have been seen as anit-social if we didn't participate in drinking Chicha and Ch'alla-ing Patcha Mama. Let's not oversimplify behaviors that could possible lead to rape, abduction, and death and let's not compare crime rates here in the US with those in countries where PCVs serve. We must consider that many trainees have never operated outside thier culture and had the challenges of communicating in another language. reality is; individual we can share our own version it. In my case, This unpleasant incident was swept under the rug. Now I am cleaning house and hopefully other volunteers will demand answers to unsolved questions of safety and security.

By Dayton ( - on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - 6:45 am: Edit Post

You go Kristy.

By Donald Pattillo ( - on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 10:47 am: Edit Post

Yes, I was referring to my experience in Macedonia, and cannot speak for all PCVs over the entire history. I stand behind my remarks that safety and security were treated very seriously during my time. I don't doubt your account, and I am indeed distressed to learn of it. But I don't think your experience would have been the same in Macedonia. It may well be the case that safety and security were not treated very seriously in years past, but I believe the situation has been improved in recent years.
I stand behind my remark that it is incumbent on all PCVs to exercise some judgment in going out to bars, nightclubs, etc., especially alone. I know this was not your case, but so many assaults, robberies, and rapes have involved excessive drinking, and this is no different from what I read frequently in the Atlanta newspaper about incidents locally.

By Nijma ( - on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 5:45 pm: Edit Post

Sounds like the Macedonia volunteers are a bunch of lushes. Reminds me of the guy who had a piece of limberger cheese stuck under his nose. He thought the whole world smelled like limberger cheese.

The incidents I know about personally occurred about 2000 and involved either volunteers in cabs or walking on the street while engaged in official Peace Corps business or in connection with their housing. Most occurred in the morning during business hours or right after work.

Reporting any safety concerns was a sure way to bring retribution from our Peace Corps office. One volunteer was even chewed out when she returned to the capital after a tank with guys carrying machine guns parked at the end of her block. The next day a national in her village died in a confrontation with soldiers. Fortunately it was also reported in the newspaper, or I bet she would have had a plane ticket home.

This Donald guy has the same piece posted all over this website. If he isn't a PC staffer yet, he will be soon. They hire people who can't see problems. Whenever safety is mentioned, the Peace Corps likes to make the volunteers sound irresponsible. It distracts people from wondering what Peace Corps is doing about safety.

The solution is not to hire Peace Corps safety officers to intercept and conceal any security concerns that might get reported to the embassy security officer. The solution is incentives for offices with high retention rates. Couple this with a crisis team made up of someone fluent in the local language and someone fluent in American culture who can go out to a site and resolve cultural misunderstandings. We had several such volunteers who did not stay because they were offered a third year as a volunteer and not a paid staff position.

Climb back onto your barstool, Mr. Patillo. Or better yet, AA is listed in the phone book.

By Charles k giles ( - on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 8:38 am: Edit Post

Old Timer:1976 South Pacific,Island Ponape WE spent our week of training being told that we would be trained when we arrived.When we arrived our leader seemed to be busy trying to impress the ladies in our group of thirty.We Magistates assitence were left to try and invent our jobs.The mayor I was assigned to ,after I organized his records from the last twenty years took them and burned them. He then locked the office and told me to go have a good time,he did not need my help. He did not need me finding out what he was spending the money he was geting from the U.S.A. on.I was threatened to be killed by locals,and one of our nurses was raped and beaten.She had scratches all over her face.The local police did nothing,we knew the local thug who did this,the nurse was affraid to pursue any charges because the local police did not believe her. Yet the local police did respond to a local contractors house where the radio was playing to loud and proceed to kick one of my fellow peace corp vol. while he sleeping on the porch.Then when he protested Peter was beaten and draged 200 yards to a jeep .And his girl friend who protested was also draged by the hair to the jeep.That night they were sprayed with fire hoses and left hand cuffed all night,leaving thier hands with no feeling.The Peace Corp leader wrote them up for having been arrested.Never asking myself or the contractor what had taken place.They were sent to Guam and kicked out of the Peace Corp for having the hell beat out of them.I joined the Peace Corp to serve my country by helping others,the lack of good laeadership endangered all of our lives.I sure hope that where ever that sorry soul is today he can rest well for destroying the dreams of those he ignored so he could keep his bed full every night. I would love to hear from any fellow Peace Corp VOL. on ponape 1976.Or others who had thier dreams destroyed because thier training leader had other things on thier minds. I really loved the Peace Corp but I could not stand what this man had let happen to my friends .I lost my dream due to his self interest.

By CHARLES K GILES ( - on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 8:48 am: Edit Post

LOOKING FOR FELLOW VOL.1976 PONAPE CHARLES K GILES I hope life is treating you well and your dreams have come true. Im a middle school teacher in Ocean City Maryland. I would LOVE to hear from you.

By Nijma ( - on Thursday, February 19, 2004 - 5:03 pm: Edit Post

Too many staffers buy into the local "business-as-usual" and are not in a position to take effective action. That's why volunteers need someone outside the country and not associated with PC to intervene in these situations.

By ANONYMOUS ( - on Sunday, February 22, 2004 - 2:13 pm: Edit Post



By nijma ( - on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 10:31 am: Edit Post

I know two volunteers who dealt with embassy security. The embassy did get involved, the Peace Corps took retribution and both volunteers left early.

By a PCV mother to be soon ( - on Monday, April 19, 2004 - 5:36 pm: Edit Post

this scares the living daylights out of me, a mother of a female PCV to be; she is due to leave the end of June and she doesn't have a clue as to these kind of reactions from former PCVs. The more I try to tell her, the more defient she seems to get; I really do not feel that the government of the USA has a right to portray this Peace Corps as such a safe entity any more...are there any parents of current PCVs in Africa who can testify to me that their children are safe and secure and happy and satisfied with what they are doing? Please keep up this kind of discussion; point me to other websites too, that give first hand comments from past PCVs..thanks.

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