February 26, 2004 - Friends of El Salvador: "Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World" lobbied against Goldsmith Award for Dayton Daily News

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: March 2004 Peace Corps Headlines: March 18, 2004 - Associated Press: Dayton Daily News was finalist for Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for exposing assaults against Peace Corps volunteers and the agency's attempt to conceal its knowledge of the abuses : February 26, 2004 - Friends of El Salvador: "Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World" lobbied against Goldsmith Award for Dayton Daily News

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-19-229.balt.east.verizon.net - on Monday, March 22, 2004 - 4:33 pm: Edit Post

"Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World" lobbied against Goldsmith Award for Dayton Daily News

Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World lobbied against Goldsmith Award for Dayton Daily News

"Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World" lobbied against Goldsmith Award for Dayton Daily News

Letter to the Goldsmith Award Committee:

26 February 2004

Concerned Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the World

Dear Committee Members for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting:

This letter comes to you on behalf of a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers concerning Russell Carollo’s series titled "Casualties of Peace," a series nominated for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. We feel that rewarding this series, which so dramatically distorts facts, would damage the integrity and credibility of both this prestigious award as well as the journalists associated with the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. We find ourselves in the unique position of having served in the Peace Corps and having trusted Peace Corps to care for our health and safety. Within the group of returned volunteers who signed this letter, we saw friends sick, hurt, attacked, and saw friends die during service. We know firsthand the events and tragedies reported on in this series, and unlike the general public who read the articles, we know where the inaccuracies lie. Most of us are unaffiliated with the Peace Corps and have been unaffiliated since completing our service. With no interest in anything beyond truth, respect for the victims, and the promotion of journalistic integrity, we ask you to read this letter and consider what we have to say before rewarding Russell Carrollo for his work.

While hundreds of inaccuracies exist in this series, we would like the opportunity to address only those mentioned in your own press release of February 4, 2004, beginning with the statement that lauds the Dayton Daily News for finding "that the assaults against Peace Corps volunteers more than doubled since 1991."

This statement, which is the centerpiece of the series, is misleading at best, if not entirely inaccurate. The following points – which are based on our experience as volunteers and "The 2002 Annual Report of Volunteer Safety" (which is available on the Peace Corps website and provides a more in depth look at the same data from which Mr. Carollo derived his statistics) – demonstrate the misleading nature of the "Casualties of Peace" series:

· First, Mr. Carollo lumps both major and minor assaults into one statistic in order to procure a shocking headline, even though Peace Corps tracks them separately. While unwanted groping or unarmed theft (both minor assaults) can be a cause for alarm, these incidents hardly compare to major assaults, such as rape, in magnitude. Major sexual assaults have actually decreased since 1991.

· Second, has anyone questioned why Mr. Carollo would choose such a random year as 1991? Why not a round number, or, more relevant, why not focus on the present? The Peace Corps we experienced was one of constant analysis and improvement, and anyone who follows Peace Corps knows that they instituted an Office of Safety and Security in 2002, including the hiring of 80 worldwide employees whose only job is keeping volunteers safe and secure.

· Third, there is always danger in looking at any segment of data. For example, using the same statistics Mr. Carollo has, one will find that major sexual assaults are down 30 percent since 1997, and rapes are down 18 percent from 2001 to 2002. In fact, in almost every statistical category, Peace Corps has become less dangerous over time. Mr. Carollo fails to cite these statistics because they do not fit into the story he is writing. But if you give any validity to Mr. Carollo’s method of arriving at his "doubling" statistic and his 125 percent increase statistic, you have to give the same credibility to these statistics because their merit is equally as relevant.

· Fourth, when dealing with incidents of this small of a number, even the slightest variation in incidents can create statistical anomalies. For example, in 1997 there were 20 reported rapes, and in 2002, there were 12 reported rapes. Statistically, you could flash across the headlines that Peace Corps has seen a 40 percent decrease in rape incidents in that time period, but the eight person difference in a population of over 7,500 volunteers, in reality, is not statistically relevant.

· Finally, no matter how hard the Peace Corps may try, they cannot always account for the fact that adult volunteers who make a conscious effort to join the Peace Corps are sometimes going to put themselves at risk. The Peace Corps does not hide any information from volunteers. They spend three months teaching volunteers the local customs and language, much of it focusing on security and safety. Volunteers are all adults. Some will drink. Some will walk home alone at night, even if Peace Corps has told them not to. Some will leave their sites without warning anyone. In 36 percent of all major sexual assaults, the volunteer had been drinking. Although we cannot blame the victim, as former volunteers, we know that many volunteers who choose to drink often make decisions that put them at greater risk of being assaulted. Let me reiterate: these are educated adults. Would you hold Harvard University liable if the university found housing for one of your Deans, who was then mugged in front of that home? Peace Corps takes more precautions than any study abroad or volunteer abroad program (which is evidenced by the fact that The Center for Global Education models their safety procedures after Peace Corps) and is well ahead of the curve. The fact that the Peace Corps actually chooses to track this data demonstrates that they obviously take safety seriously and are looking for trends and ways to prevent future assaults.

In addition, your press release continues with the statement "for years the agency concealed the extent of the threat to volunteers." This statement is also inaccurate for the following reasons:

· First, as discussed above, Mr. Carollo’s series misrepresented the data for shock value. He falsely claims that Peace Corps is more dangerous than in previous years, when, in fact, it is most likely less dangerous.

· Second, the Peace Corps may not announce their data in press releases to the media, but they certainly don’t hide it. At posts, the people who need the information have it, including the volunteers. In our experience, we have seen Peace Corps relocate volunteers, provide extra allowances to pay for additional safety measures (such as taxi rides home) or look to take other safety precautions (such as bars on windows). We know that this is often the direct result of this assault data.

And, in most cases, it really isn’t relevant to look at statistics for the entire Peace Corps program. It is much more relevant to analyze data locally. If volunteers are being attacked in a certain country or area more than other areas, Peace Corps always responds to this data, in our experience. Has anyone considered that perhaps Peace Corps was so busy using their data for practical reasons (like keeping volunteers safe locally) that they didn’t think to create some abstract program-wide statistics that have little bearing on methods to keep volunteers safe in their individual countries.

· Third, Mr. Carollo’s conclusion that Peace Corps was concealing data is contradicted by the fact that Peace Corps makes available numerous reports on its website containing information about the safety of its volunteers. And, we looked into Mr. Carollo’s alleged lawsuit against Peace Corps for not releasing information to him. Mr. Carollo’s fails to mention in his series that this lawsuit was thrown out by the courts, and Peace Corps was found to be in compliance with the law.

· Fourth, Peace Corps is not mandated by Congress or any entity to collect safety data or to release it to the public. They do so of their own accord because they care for their volunteers. It would not make sense for Peace Corps to spend the money to collect this data if the agency did not plan to use it for some reason.

In an organization with over 7,500 active volunteers and 170,000 alumni, there will be accidents and tear-jerking stories. But given that Peace Corps works in developing countries, their track record is actually fairly impressive, especially in the past few years. The Peace Corps’ assault cases and death rate are lower than comparable rates in most U.S. cities, including Dayton, Ohio, where in 2002 someone was murdered every 8.7 days. In fact, our experience is that most volunteers feel Peace Corps is OVERprotective. Volunteers in our groups often felt Peace Corps restricted their movements too much and spent too much time hammering home safety procedures.

If you want to award Mr. Carollo for quality journalism, then we urge you to wait until he does some investigation that involves more than running a few queries that are far from objective. And as to the victim’s stories he tells, most are not new (in fact, most have previously been reported on). They are the few anomalies that are tragic, but are so much more complicated than he presents them. We know volunteers that been assault and even died. And often their assault was partly the result of their breaking Peace Corps rules. We don’t mean to defame any victims, but even reading between the lines of Mr. Carollo’s own stories, you will see common trends of volunteers who disobeyed rules, often did not integrate into their communities or work with their host country counterparts, or went off alone.

The examples provided cover just the inaccuracies you seem to praise in your press release. Literally, we could provide hundreds of other incidents where Mr. Carollo’s information in "Casualties of Peace" is misleading or wrong. In fact, on the Dayton Daily News’ own website is a message board where former and current volunteers point out many of these inaccuracies or tell their stories of how Mr. Carollo misled them. Included with this letter are excerpts from that message board from many volunteers who are concerned about the series and the way it presents its information.

Please, we urge you: before even considering finalists in the future, investigate the other side of the story. Just because a reporter has won a Pulitzer Prize does not mean he or she uses objective judgment or tactics. Mr. Carollo had to write a story. He spent 20 months investigating the Peace Corps and was determined to find something wrong with the agency. He has already done a huge disservice to one of the few government agencies that actually makes a difference in the world. If you further reward him for his misleading data and shock-value stories, you do a huge disservice to the other finalists and journalism in general.



Excerpts from the Dayton Daily News’ Comment Board on the Series "Casualties of Peace"

On the tactics used by the Dayton Daily News:

"I was a volunteer in the Ivory Coast group of 1996-98 that experienced many tragic events, and I was interviewed for this series on the Peace Corps. Of course, nothing I said was included in this story because I had nothing bad to say. During the interview, I felt like I was being interrogated. Instead of conducting an objective interview, the reporter tried to convince me of how unsafe the Peace Corps is. And he was never a volunteer."

- An Ivory Coast returned Peace Corps volunteer

"While the public has a right to information about volunteer incidents, the victims have a right to privacy. We wish that the DDN had used at least a little discretion in the portrayal of [volunteer] Carlos Amador’s story. Inaccurate statements about his cause of death and misrepresented interviewees made his parents feel obligated to defend his character to thousands of strangers, not to mention relive the pain and anguish surrounding his death once more. We find it inexcusable that due to poor investigative journalism, they are being made to recount the details of their son’s death, and to defend his reputation to strangers reading these articles and unknowingly accepting misrepresented data and distorted quotations as truths."

– A group of returned volunteers who served in El Salvador

"As a good friend of Walter [Porier] and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Bolivia, I find his article to be skewed to bring unnecessary alarm and confusion.

The disappearance of Walter is tragic and all who know him are upset by his loss. His disappearance and attacks on other volunteers highlight real issues that the Peace Corps needs to address, however quoting unsubstantiated theories by government officials who did not know him and writing in alarming and slanted ways will not bring these issues to the forefront, they will merely obscure the truth."

- Steve Spaulding, former Peace Corps volunteer

On the objectivity of the series:

"I find the authors of this series verging on irresponsibility for their failure to provide readers a fair or even knowledgeable context for the charges they seem to be leveling. What most astounds me is that they fault the Peace Corps for providing precisely what most people – all putatively adults – join it for: the adventure of going off the beaten path, the opportunity to develop one's own resourcefulness toward a larger good in settings where resourcefulness and the sincere application of it can be useful to recipients."

- Peggy, a Togo returned Peace Corps volunteer

"Of the approximately 200 deaths since the start of Peace Corps, at least 87 of them occurred in the first ten years alone. Further reading the stats shows that in the last ten years there have only been 34 deaths, down to ONE in 2002. Maybe [Peace Corps] had a rough start, but it looks as though their safety record is only improving with time, something that I think deserves to be mentioned."

- Amanda, a current Peace Corps volunteer

"I have had first hand information about those cases cited by Carollo and there are a number of things that he failed to mention or misrepresented. Nowhere does he mention how much work has gone into improving safety and health conditions for volunteers over the last few years."

-- Anna, former El Salvador Peace Corps volunteer (at the time of the assault against the women there), also involved in training volunteers in Paraguay

"While I am not a statistician, it seems we are scrutinizing the statistics presented in these articles in a vacuum. There is talk of suicides, assaults, rapes, and accidents, yet not once are these numbers compared to a similar demographic sample in the U.S. Similarly, the statistics are not compared to the actual situation in the country where they occurred. Are volunteers committing suicide in larger percentages than people of similar social and economic backgrounds in the U.S.? Are volunteers experiencing accidents or assaults at greater rates than other individuals in the countries they serve?"

- A Burkina Faso returned Peace Corps volunteer

"Peace Corps is a very large organization with over forty years of placing volunteers in some of the most needy countries. If you look at the statistics and analyze them rationally, you will see that Peace Corps has a very good track record of keeping volunteers safe. You could do the same kind of story about rapes and violence at large universities and make a case that it is no place a parent would want to send a child."

- A Jamaica Peace Corps volunteer

On the tone of the series:

"Russell Carollo and others at DDN attempt to create a picture of Peace Corps sending unwitting befuddled (‘mildly hysterical’) twenty-something year-olds to trek alone into third world anarchy in El Salvador and elsewhere. They portray an immature, ill-prepared, helpless volunteer pool that is predisposed to being victimized and using drugs. This is a gross generalization, both inaccurate and offensive. Public information is readily available about crime and violence in the developing countries where volunteers serve."

– A group of returned volunteers who served in El Salvador

"I have to say that I am happy to see [volunteer] safety and security as a ‘hot topic’ in the news. Unfortunately I am disappointed by the sensationalist attitude this series seems to be taking. I don't mean in any way to minimalize the horrible experiences of the volunteers sited in the articles, however I think it's irresponsible to portray these experiences as the norm."

- Amy, a recently returned volunteer from Samoa

On the Peace Corps’ responsibility:

"[Carollo] does not mention that more than half of the assault cases involved behavior that went explicitly against Peace Corps warnings (not to travel to unsafe areas, not to travel at night, not to co-habitate with opposite sex, not to drink, as examples)."

-- Anna, former El Salvador Peace Corps volunteer (at the time of the assault against the women there), also involved in training volunteers in Paraguay

"At no time are you pressured into continuing on if you do not feel comfortable. We had many people drop out in training after realizing that this just wasn't the right thing for them. We were never made to believe that going to El Salvador, especially so soon after the civil war had ended, was going to be easy."

- Margarita, an El Salvador returned Peace Corps volunteer

"This form of irresponsible reporting vilifies not only the Peace Corps, but also the poor communities that assuredly will not voice their opinion with this newspaper. Peace Corps volunteers are not always the innocent lambs that these articles portray them to be. As volunteers, we always have the option to leave poverty – no one, especially not Peace Corps, forces a rape or mugging victim to remain a volunteer."

- A Dominican Republic returned Peace Corps volunteer

"Of course the Peace Corps should check out housing in advance. But as anyone knows who spends any time at all in the developing world, prior arrangements can go awry for a million reasons. (Actually, that happens here, too.) With the most careful planning, volunteers sometimes arrive at their sites to discover that a job or place to live has fallen through. The best volunteers make lemonade."

- Peggy, a Togo returned Peace Corps volunteer

"During our three month in-country training, we are given extensive training on security and language, the number one tip to safety being community integration. While you cannot take out risk in life, you cannot and should not hide from it. While I know that living in a foreign country does expose me to the risk of theft, robbery, or assault, living in the United States also exposes me to the same. I am not living here with my eyes closed, and as a volunteer, I choose to be here, fully knowing and accepting that there are inherent dangers."

- A Bolivia Peace Corps volunteer

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Story Source: Friends of El Salvador

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



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