March 24, 2004 - PCOL Exclusive: Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: March 24, 2004: The House holds Hearings on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers: March 24, 2004 - PCOL Exclusive: Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

By Admin1 (admin) (151.196.183.79) on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 10:40 pm: Edit Post

Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee



Congressman Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, presided over hearings on March 24 on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers. Read and comment on the written statement by the witnesses at the hearings at:

Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee*

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



Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I've been asked to summarize the results of the Dayton Daily News investigation of the Peace Corps and the safety risks faced by its volunteers

For 20 months, investigative reporter Russell Carollo and our Washington correspondent, Mei Ling Hopgood, examined the Peace Corps safety record.

Our work included interviews with more than 500 people in the United States and 10 other countries, filed 75 Freedom of Information Act requests and appeals, and, ultimately, the newspaper sued the Peace Corps in federal court to obtain public records that document assaults against volunteers.

The reporting resulted in a seven-day series of articles that ran between Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2003. Reprints of the series and related articles, including reaction from the Peace Corps and Peace Corps volunteers, were provided to this committee.

I might also add, Mr. Chairman, that Mr. Carollo and Ms. Hopgood are in attendance at this hearing.

Major findings from our investigation show that the Peace Corps puts volunteers in danger by sending them alone to some of the most dangerous corners of the world.

Violence against volunteers is widespread.

Since 1961, more than 250 Peace Corps volunteers have died -- including at least 20 who were murdered, others who perished under mysterious circumstances and one volunteer, Walter Poirier, who has been missing since 2001.

That represents a death rate of about one volunteer every two months.

Since 1991, while the number of Peace Corps volunteers has grown by less than 30 percent, the reported incidents of assaults against volunteers has more than doubled. That includes a 112 percent increase in aggravated assaults.

In 2002, by way of example, a Peace Corps volunteer was assaulted or robbed every 23 hours.

In 1977, male volunteers outnumbered females by a ratio of 2 to 1. Today, women comprise a majority of Peace Corps volunteers -- and they represent 70 percent of the assault victims.

 Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

The newspaper's investigation showed that many assaults were linked to a decades-old practice of sending young volunteers just out of college to live alone with virtually no supervision in remote, often violent, regions, in unsafe housing.

Volunteers frequently arrive at their sites fresh out of training without a job to keep them busy

Some turn to drinking, using drugs, traveling to unsafe areas, or engaging in other activities that put them in danger. Alcohol was linked to nearly 1 in 6 deaths since 1962 and nearly 1 in 3 assaults since 1999, according to our research.

The extent of this safety problem has been disguised for decades, partly because the assaults occurred thousands of miles away, partly because the Peace Corps has made little effort to publicize them and partly because the agency deliberately kept people from finding out -- while emphasizing the positive aspects of Peace Corps Service.

The agency misled a number of families and the public about the circumstances of several deaths; some families learned critical details about how their loved ones died for the first time from the newspaper.

One mother didn't know her daughter had attempted suicide in Ecuador before lapsing into a coma and dying.

"They just told me she had a massive stroke," the mother said.

The brother of another volunteer said the family was never told that his 22-year-old sister had written a resignation letter the day she disappeared in Africa or that the Peace Corps suspected suicide. Her body was found five days later floating in a river, and the family was led to believe a crocodile killed her.

The family of a man who was murdered in Ukraine was unaware of the role a young Ukrainian woman played in his death. The woman stole the volunteer's apartment keys, giving them to an acquaintance of the killer, and even the judge who oversaw the case believes she the same woman who poisoned him the night he was killed. Yet no DNA testing was ever done. Her participation in the crime, according to the family, was kept from them by the Peace Corps.

However, we did find cases where the agency was responsive to volunteers' safety concerns and was helpful in providing information to families. Our observation was that the agency's track record was erratic and inconsistent in this regard.

 Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

The Peace Corps didn't start collecting worldwide crime statistics until 1990, 28 years after it first sent volunteers overseas, and the statistics it now makes available to the public and Congress make it appear volunteers are safer than they actually are. Though the Peace Corps calculates a crime rate based on the number of volunteers, it doesn't use the actual number of crime victims when calculating the rate -- only the number of "incidents." So, for example, when three women were raped in El Salvador in 1996, statistics reflect a single rape incident.

The agency still doesn't collect statistics on certain crimes, such as kidnappings and abductions. Murder is counted simply as an assault under the agency's system.

Too often, warnings about safety from Peace Corps safety officers have been ignored.

In 1992, John Hale, then acting inspector general for the Peace Corps, warned in a 43-page report to Congress of "a marked increase in violent acts against volunteers worldwide."

Hale told the Dayton Daily News that he quit the Peace Corps after working on the report, in part, because the agency ignored his warnings.

"The idea was to return to the land of myth and legacy," he said, "not to make sure this was a good and effective agency that was doing good and keeping people safe. People don't want to burst the myth of the culture."

You might find it interesting that it was easier getting information out of the former Soviet Union than out of Peace Corps.

"Ukraine is a democratic country," the regional police chief told us when supplying records of a volunteer's murder, an incident that the Peace Corps had warned volunteers not to discuss with the media.

"The press is free," the Ukrainian police chief told us. "We have nothing to hide."

 Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

Compare that to the Peace Corps, which refused to even acknowledge some of our FOIA requests and when they did send records (and only after being sued), the agency removed the names of countries where assaults occurred, the dates assaults occurred, the names of country directors responsible for safety and other information routinely released by police departments here in the United States every day.

The series has prompted vigorous debate among current and former volunteers and staff members. Much of that was prompted by the Peace Corps itself, which, even before we printed the first word was warning the national Peace Corps Association and its members that our reporting would be misleading.

John Hale, the former Peace Corps IG, told us he was not surprised by that defensiveness:
In dozens of investigations and audits, he said his staff was "often surprised at how little 'peace' there was in the corps when its virtue was questioned."

He warned us the reaction could turn fierce, ad hominem and visceral -- his words.

It has been.

 Dayton Daily News Editor Jeffrey Bruce's Statement on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers before the House International Relations Committee

However, within weeks of publication of our series, the Peace Corps redesigned its web site to include extensive information on safety and security. The additional information includes a video message from the director and, for the first time, the agency's annual report on assaults -- a report the U.S. General Accounting Office had been trying to get the agency to post for two years.

In fairness, it should be noted -- as it was in our series -- that most of the 350 volunteers we interviewed, including assault victims, looked favorably on their service saying it was a life-changing experience.

George Stengren's service in Africa inspired him to teach high school in Harlem. After teaching business skills in the African country of Togo, Tiffany Arthur of Dayton is an analyst in international agricultural trade. Melissa McSwegin of Kettering, who just finished three years as a volunteer, is working to eradicate the debilitating illness known as Guinea Worm disease in Niger.

Other volunteers have gone on to public service, including Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and former U.S. Congressman Tony Hall of Dayton, who continues to champion the cause of hunger around the world as the ambassador to the United Nations' food relief agencies.

That acknowledged, the Peace Corps' own statistics clearly show that volunteers are at increased risk.

And the stories of volunteers who returned from service disillusioned -- or who did not return at all -- need to be heard.

One of them is Jennifer Petersen, a volunteer who underwent 10 facial surgeries over two and a half years after being beaten with a rock in the African country of Lesotho:

She said she felt abandoned by the Peace Corps. "I thought the Peace Corps was different from a typical government entity," she said. "I was expecting some support from them. I got nothing."

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.



March 23, 2004 - US Newswire: Hyde to introduce Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004

Hyde to introduce Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004



Read and comment on this Press Release from the Committee on International Relations that Chairman Henry Hyde will introduce the Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2004 to create an agency ombudsman; enhance the Corps' security office; and give greater independence to the agency's Office of the Inspector General. Read the story at:

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor*

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



Safety & Security of Peace Corps Volunteers: Hyde schedules Wednesday oversight hearing; Plans introduction of legislation to remedy problems

BACKGROUND: The president's intention of doubling the size of the Peace Corps comes at a time of heightened risk for Americans living abroad. Recent critical reports by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an award-winning series by the Dayton Daily News illustrate uneven performance by the Peace Corps in developing safe and secure housing and worksites, responding to volunteer concerns, and planning for emergencies. Among those scheduled to testify are Walter R. Poirier, the father of missing Peace Corps volunteer Walter J. Poirier. The younger Poirier, a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, and a 2000 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, served as a volunteer in Bolivia until his disappearance in March 2001. A subsequent GAO report found that "the Peace Corps failed to properly supervise Poirier and lost track of him." Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez is expected to testify on recent policies adopted by the Peace Corps to promote the safety and security of its volunteers. Later this month, Chairman Hyde will introduce the Peace Corps Safety and Security Act of 2003 to create an agency ombudsman; enhance the Corps' security office; and give greater independence to the agency's Office of the Inspector General.

WHAT: Full Committee oversight hearing: Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers

WHEN: 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 24

WHERE: Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

WITNESSES: Gaddi H. Vasquez, Director, The Peace Corps; Charles D. Smith, Inspector General, The Peace Corps; Jeffrey Bruce, Editor, Dayton Daily News; Jess Ford, Director, International Affairs and Trade, General Accounting Office; Walter R. Poirier, father of missing Peace Corps volunteer; and Kevin Quigley, President, National Peace Corps Association.

Issues expected to be examined at the hearing:

-- How does the Peace Corps monitor the safety and security of its volunteers in the field?

-- Is there a standard policy on a global or country-by- country basis that requires supervisors to visit or contact volunteers in person at a specified interval?

-- How does the Peace Corps train its volunteers, especially with respect to safety and security? After several months on assignment, do Peace Corps volunteers feel that they have been adequately prepared for their assignment?

-- Is it possible to expand the presence of the Peace Corps in additional countries while taking into account the safety of Peace Corps volunteers?





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Read the series on Safety and Security here



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Read comments by RPCVs here, here and here.





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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Congress; Hearings; Legislation; Safety and Security of Volunteers

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