Testimony by Nepal RPCV Carol Clark
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Testimony by Nepal RPCV Carol Clark
House Hearings on Sexual Assault: Testimony by Nepal RPCV Carol Clark
I do believe the Peace Corps has come a long way, but there is much further to go, as the experiences of the women sitting with me on this panel show. In the last 20 years, according to the Peace Corps' own data, Peace Corps Volunteers reported more than 1600 incidents of sexual assault, over 1000 of which occurred in the last decade. Unfortunately, the number of victims is actually much higher, as the Peace Corps' own annual volunteer surveys reveal that rape and sexual assaults are quite often unreported. In 2009, for example, the annual survey revealed that 33 volunteers were victims of a rape they did not report, and 196 volunteers were victims of a sexual assault they did not report. In that same year, the Peace Corps statistics in the Annual Report of Volunteer Safety recorded only 15 reported rapes or attempted rapes and 100 incidents of sexual assault. The 2010 annual volunteer survey revealed that nearly 40% of rape victims, 44% of victims of attempted rape, and nearly 50% of sexual assault victims did not report their attacks. And the problem of sexual assault against Peace Corps Volunteers hasn't diminished since my service. Sadly, the three most recent years for which the Peace Corps has released statistics have seen the greatest number of assaults. The women trusting their lives to the Peace Corps every year cannot wait two more decades for the Peace Corps' sexual assault policies to organically mature. The Peace Corps needs help, guidance, and greater accountability. I hope that now that women are speaking about these issues, now that America is learning about these issues, now that Congress is addressing these issues, we can achieve meaningful change. I still believe in the Peace Corps. I believe in its mission. I believe in its premise: that with hard work and compassion, we can build a better world. I want the Peace Corps to continue to represent America as an ambassador of hope and service to the rest of the world. But, I want the young women who go into the Peace Corps today to be protected. I want them to know the dangers they'll face and know how they can protect themselves. If anything happens to them, I want those women to be treated with compassion and respect. They should be heard, supported, and healed, not blamed, reprimanded, or ignored.
House Hearings on Sexual Assault: Testimony by Nepal RPCV Carol Clark
TESTIMONY OF CAROL MARIE CLARK, FORMER PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER AND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER
MAY 11, 2011 HEARING ENTITLED: "PEACE CORPS AT 50. PROBLEMS OF SAFETY AND SECURITY: VICTIMS SPEAK OUT."
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Madam Chairperson, Ranking Member Berman, Committee Members, thank you for inviting me here today to share my story. The women sitting beside me today have made clear that, unfortunately, mine is a story that has been passed down for generations. Thank you for doing all you can to ensure that this story need not be retold.
My name is Carol Marie Clark. I teach sixth grade in a small, rural, public school in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina. For many students in Jones County, the only meals they eat are those we serve at school. Local churches donate food for some of the children to take home on the weekend, and the teachers often buy shoes and uniforms for children whose clothing has worn out. I love teaching in Jones County, because I know that in great need lies great opportunity to make an impact. That belief is the reason I joined the Peace Corps when I was 22 years old. It's also the reason I have come to tell you about what happened to me while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The young women America has sent into the world to be its ambassadors of peace, hope, and compassion, who returned home as the victims of rape, neglect, and indifference, need a voice. This is my chance to help breathe life into the Peace Corps' impersonal statistics and to give those women that voice.
The Dream: The Idea of Peace Corps
Ever since I was a little girl, I had wanted to join the Peace Corps. Growing up, John F. Kennedy was my hero. I believed in him, I believed that America was a force for good in the world, and I believed that service to others was the highest calling. So, to me, the Peace Corps was a confluence of everything that was right.
I attended Wake Forest University, in part, because I loved its motto: "pro humanitate," which means, "for humanity." While in college, I volunteered with community clean-up efforts, and I tutored middle school and high school students in math and reading. As soon as I could, I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted. I graduated in May 1984 and three months later I found myself in Nepal, ready to begin my long-awaited adventure.
The Reality: No Training
Nepal was hot and hazy. New smells and sounds were pervasive. But, what made the most powerful impression on me were the hard lives of the Nepalese people. Most of the people I met lived in mud houses with thatched roofs. Very few families US1DOCS 7893594v2 could afford to send their children to school, so children spent their days working in fields or in homes. Everything was done by hand: men women and children would plow by hand. They would harvest by hand. They would even break gravel for new roads by hand. Malnutrition and child mortality rates soared, and from where I lived, I could hear children crying for food at night. I suppose those are the kinds of things for which one can never be completely prepared. On other issues, however, preparation was possible and necessary, but neglected.
The Peace Corps never provided us with any training about minimizing the risks of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape-not before we were sent overseas, and not when we arrived in our Nepali training site. Similarly, we learned nothing about what we should do if such an attack were to occur. We were told Nepali men were very respectful and so any training on that topic would be unnecessary. This advice was belied by the reality we faced in-country.
In Nepal, the female volunteers were disrespected, fondled, and objectified. In cities, men would constantly cup our buttocks or brush against our breasts. One night, another woman and I were sent to visit a separate Volunteer site. Shortly after we had gotten onto the bus, we were surrounded by a group of men. They began touching us and pulling on our clothes. Frightened, we yelled for help, hoping some of the women on the bus would intervene, but they didn't move. We then yelled to the bus driver who eventually pulled over and let us off. We walked the rest of the way.
When we got back to our training site, we asked the Peace Corps staff to teach us what we could do to protect ourselves in those situations. They responded by telling us that there was no chance our harassers were Nepali men, because Nepali men were respectful. Rather, they continued, the men must have been Indians and, in the future, we should avoid getting on buses with Indians. We asked the Peace Corps staff if they would teach us local phrases to tell men to stop touching us or to call for help. They denied our request, saying such phrases were impolite and unnecessary.
The Nightmare: Betrayal
After our training was "complete," I was placed in a village and assigned work as a fisheries extension agent. I would test soil, determine where and how to build ponds, calculate with how many and what types of fish the ponds should be stocked, and advise local farmers as to what kinds of animals should be raised on the banks to keep the ponds fertile. I was excited. I had majored in biology at Wake Forest and had some experience with construction, so the job seemed ideally suited to my skills and interests. It was also a job that designed to help ease the hunger that plagued Nepal.
My enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to anxiety. Soon after I began working, my supervisor, the Nepalese Peace Corps Program Director, began telling the female volunteers that we would have to have sex with him in order to receive our living supplement checks. Volunteers told our Country Director about this, but he did nothing. Rather than disciplining or reporting the Program Director, the Country Director merely US1DOCS 7893594v2 suggested we grow a thicker skin. The Program Director remained insulated in his supervisory position over us, free to harass and intimidate us with virtual immunity. I began bringing a male volunteer with me when I went to pick up my check. About three months into my service, there was a party in Kathmandu to celebrate the departure of some of the Volunteers. I, like many others, drank too much. In fact, by the end of the night, I couldn't stand. My friends put me in a car with some other Volunteers and the Peace Corps Program Director, who drove me to my hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, one of my Volunteer friends carried me up the stairs into my room and laid me down. Then, the Volunteers left. My Program Director, however, did not leave. He did not ask me what I wanted. He did not ask my permission. He pushed my pants down. He pushed his pants down. He raped me. And, I was physically incapable of stopping him.
The next morning, I went straight to the Peace Corps Medical Officer and reported what my Program Director had done. Instead of helping me, the Medical Officer told me that he was disgusted with all of the Volunteers and that anything that happened to us was our own fault. He gave me no birth control, no prophylaxis, no exam.
Devastated and humiliated, with no one to turn to for help, I returned to my village. I tried to pretend it never happened. I told myself it was just a nightmare. But the brutal reality would soon become inescapable.
The "Choice": Indifference
Weeks later, I realized that I had become pregnant with the child of my rapist. I was terrified and disgusted. I returned to Kathmandu, where I saw a nurse who confirmed my fears. She reported the pregnancy to the Peace Corps Medical Officer, who reported it to the Country Director and to Peace Corps' headquarters in Washington, DC. The Peace Corps' response was that I would need to choose immediately whether to terminate my pregnancy or terminate my service with the Peace Corps.
I was 22 years old. I was far from home, with no one to talk to and no one I could trust. Ashamed and afraid, I called my parents and told them what had happened. To my deeply religious parents, I was a disgrace. The circumstances of my pregnancy were irrelevant. They told me that, so long as I was unmarried and pregnant, I was not welcome back in their home.
So, if I chose to have the baby, neither the Peace Corps nor my parents would have me. Everyday I became more afraid of what I would do on my own, with the child of my rapist growing inside me. I had flashbacks of being raped while I lay helpless to stop it. I couldn't endure it. I wanted to die. Feeling I had no other choice, I made a choice that went against everything that I was taught to believe: I chose to terminate my pregnancy.
The Peace Corps told me to fly to Honolulu for the termination but provided no funding for the procedure. Instead, the family of my best friend sent me the money I needed. The choice I made couldn't erase what happened, but, it was the only choice I felt I had. When it was over, I tried to forget, to heal, and to start again.
The Breaking Point: Danger
I was taught to never give up, and so I returned to Nepal, determined to hold my head up and to honor the commitment I had made to the Nepalese people and to the Peace Corps. But the Peace Corps did not honor the commitments I believe it had made to me.
Not only did the Peace Corps allow the Program Director to remain in his position supervising Volunteers even after I reported the rape, but before the Peace Corps would honor my request to be supervised by someone other than the Program Director who had raped me, I was forced to confront him, face-to-face, in front of the Peace Corps Medical Director. Forcing me to see this man again, to speak to him, and to convince the Peace Corps that he had violated me, was extremely traumatic. But, determined to continue my service, I did it.
I was placed under a new supervisor, who made it clear he was unhappy that I had been assigned to him. The Peace Corps never took action against my assailant. In fact, a month after I returned to service, my former Program Director showed up unannounced at my village. Vulnerable and frightened, I left my post and stayed with a friend until he left.
When I returned to my village, it was clear the Program Director had told others that my body was free for the taking. Anyone who wanted could have me with no questions or consequences. Soon after he left, a Nepalese government official and friend of the Program Director approached me. He offered me "fun, like [I] had with my Peace Corps friend" and tried to forcibly abduct me. I broke free and ran into a local tea house.
Two weeks later, a Nepalese official who worked as my local counterpart in the fisheries program pulled me into his room in the complex where we both lived and worked. He asked me for sex, saying my "Peace Corps friend" had told him how I "liked to have fun." I refused him and tried to get away, but he picked up a hunting knife that was lying on his table and barred the door. Next, he knocked my glasses off. I was virtually blind. He grabbed my neck. He choked me while he pounded my head against the wall, over and over. I thought he would kill me if I kept fighting, so I tried to stop.
Then, he handed me a used, torn condom and demanded that I put it on him. I thought about where it had been and what he would be putting inside of me. I thought about the diseases that might ravage me after this man had finished. I thought about what it had felt like to carry the child of my rapist. I considered fighting until my death. US1DOCS 7893594v2 But, finally, after many violent demands and futile refusals, sick and shaking, I put the used condom on him and tried to will myself to do whatever it took to survive.
But when he began raping me, I couldn't stand it. I couldn't be still. I couldn't be silent. I couldn't let it happen. I fought again. He told me I should stop fighting and learn to enjoy his acts, because these would be the last hours of my life. I would never leave the village alive.
That night, he raped me over and over again. When alcohol deprived him of his power to rape me, he would become angry and beat me instead. He kept me there for 15 hours. For a long time, I prayed to live. And, after that, I prayed to die.
The Escape: More Indifference
As the night went on, every time the sickening, smothering body moved from on top of me, I tried to inch toward where I thought the door must be. Finally, I felt my glasses on the floor near me and put them on. At last I could look around and plan an escape. The next time he came to force himself inside of me I elbowed him as hard as I could, knocking the wind out of him, and I ran. As fast as I could, I sprinted into my room and locked the door.
He and his servant then set up camp outside my room, and waited. I put everything I had against the door and stayed inside until I heard him leave and call his servant away. When I was sure they had left, I took my bicycle and rode, ran, and waded my way to Janakpur. There, I found another Peace Corps Volunteer who agreed to fly with me to Kathmandu.
Once I arrived in Kathmandu, I reported the rape to the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Rather than supporting me, the Medical Officer said that he was angry with me for putting myself in a dangerous situation. He did nothing to document the crime or to bring justice to my attacker. He did, however, report the rape to Peace Corps headquarters and sent me to an American medical doctor. The American doctor was kind. He talked to me and treated me.
Eventually, the Peace Corps flew me back to Washington, DC for counseling. In spite of my aversion to quitting, I was ready to go home. I needed to go home. And the Peace Corps agreed. My supervisors told me to tell others I was going home for dysentery. Lying about the reason for my departure was ostensibly to protect my privacy.
The Program Director who had initially raped me was assigned to collect my belongings and mail them to me. Mislabeled, I did not receive my belongings for two and a half years. Meanwhile, my rapist had my home address. US1DOCS 7893594v2 The Others
After I left, I learned another woman in my Nepal Volunteer group was raped at the point of a machine gun. A different woman in my Volunteer group confessed to me that our supervisor at the fishery tried to rape her, too.
By 1985, so many Nepal Volunteers had been sexually harassed or assaulted that four Volunteers created a safety survey. The survey sought to warn Nepal Volunteers about what was happening and, since no other training had been provided, to give them advice as to how they could protect themselves. In response to the survey, numerous Volunteers reported they had been sexually harassed verbally, nine reported they had been sexually harassed physically, and three reported they had been raped. (See attached survey entitled, "Reported Incidents of Sexual Harassment.")
The Volunteers sent the survey to Peace Corps headquarters. I don't know whether the Peace Corps ever responded.
The Un-Welcome Home
When I returned to the United States, the Peace Corps made accommodations for me at a hotel in Washington, DC, with other Returned Volunteers who had been raped. I was told to report to a counselor the next day for an evaluation. Rather than the kind and supportive friend I needed, the counselor was a cruel and judgmental adversary.
Back in the United States for less than a day and entirely unfamiliar with this big city, I got lost and was late to my first counseling appointment. My counselor determined that my tardiness was indisputable evidence of my irresponsibility. Then, when our sessions began, she cited my late-night panicked call to the friend's family who had helped me after the first rape, as evidence that I had some sort of drug problem. She also repeatedly asked me what I had learned from my rapes. When my responses were (apparently) insufficient, the counselor used my failure to benefit from the rapes as evidence of a personality disorder.
Eventually, those counseling sessions ended. The Peace Corps sent me a Workers Compensation Representative to help me start a case file with the Department of Labor so that I could receive medical benefits. I often had to wait several months for my medical bills to be paid, but eventually Workers Compensation paid for 80 percent of my costs. It wasn't everything, but it was something, and I was thankful.
A couple of years later, the Peace Corps offered to place me in another country. I said no. I hadn't healed yet. I'm not sure I ever will.
The Silver Lining
Not everyone at the Peace Corps was indifferent. Jon Keeton, the Peace Corps' Regional Director at the time of my service, ultimately flew to Kathmandu and demanded the resignation of the Program Director who had raped me. The Regional Director and Peace Corps' Legal Office also told me that they had researched possible avenues of recourse before determining that the men who raped me could not be prosecuted.
I spoke to Jon Keeton again two years after I returned. Keeton was kind and concerned. He said he was haunted by what had happened to me. He told me that the Peace Corps had heard my story and that it had made a difference. The Peace Corps was creating new training materials and that future volunteers would be more prepared, and safer. I believe the Peace Corps wanted to change then, as it does now. I also, believe, however, that institutional memory and will power are lost as employees turn over and priorities shift.
I do believe the Peace Corps has come a long way, but there is much further to go, as the experiences of the women sitting with me on this panel show. In the last 20 years, according to the Peace Corps' own data, Peace Corps Volunteers reported more than 1600 incidents of sexual assault, over 1000 of which occurred in the last decade. Unfortunately, the number of victims is actually much higher, as the Peace Corps' own annual volunteer surveys reveal that rape and sexual assaults are quite often unreported. In 2009, for example, the annual survey revealed that 33 volunteers were victims of a rape they did not report, and 196 volunteers were victims of a sexual assault they did not report. In that same year, the Peace Corps statistics in the Annual Report of Volunteer Safety recorded only 15 reported rapes or attempted rapes and 100 incidents of sexual assault. The 2010 annual volunteer survey revealed that nearly 40% of rape victims, 44% of victims of attempted rape, and nearly 50% of sexual assault victims did not report their attacks.
And the problem of sexual assault against Peace Corps Volunteers hasn't diminished since my service. Sadly, the three most recent years for which the Peace Corps has released statistics have seen the greatest number of assaults. The women trusting their lives to the Peace Corps every year cannot wait two more decades for the Peace Corps' sexual assault policies to organically mature. The Peace Corps needs help, guidance, and greater accountability. I hope that now that women are speaking about these issues, now that America is learning about these issues, now that Congress is addressing these issues, we can achieve meaningful change.
I still believe in the Peace Corps. I believe in its mission. I believe in its premise: that with hard work and compassion, we can build a better world. I want the Peace Corps to continue to represent America as an ambassador of hope and service to the rest of the world. But, I want the young women who go into the Peace Corps today to be protected. I want them to know the dangers they'll face and know how they can protect themselves. If anything happens to them, I want those women to be treated with compassion and respect. They should be heard, supported, and healed, not blamed, reprimanded, or ignored.
With hard work and compassion, we can build a better, stronger, safer Peace Corps. In great need lies great opportunity. As the women by my side and the affidavits covering your desks can attest, the need is great. The opportunity is now. Let's build a better, safer Peace Corps so that our daughters can help the Peace Corps build a better world
Links to Related Topics (Tags):
Headlines: May, 2011; Peace Corps Nepal; Directory of Nepal RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Nepal RPCVs; Sexual Assault and Harassment; Congress; Legislation; Safety and Security of Volunteers
When this story was posted in May 2011, this was on the front page of PCOL:
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nepal; SA; Congress; Legislation; Safety