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Rape and Murder of a Volunteer in Gabon
Rape and Mruder of a Volunteer in Gabon
Personal Security for PCVs
Tabatha Aboumrad, a San Diego RPCV who served in Gabon and whom SDPCA funded for a field project, submitted the following to a board member: "I am an RPCV (Gabon 1997-99) here in San Diego. There is some controversy about security in Gabon for the volunteers. Not so long ago a PCV was raped and killed near her home-which sparked conversation about security. I'm forwarding an email that is going aroun trying to put pressure on PC-decision makers about what to do about it. I thought that you and the other San Diego RPCVs might be interested in it. It's sad - but real.
Tabatha Aboumrad, RPCV email@example.com
This letter and documentation (abridged below due to length) was forwarded to Director Mark Schneider with copies to relevant Senate Chairpersons, state department administrators, and (then) President Clinton.
January 3, 2001
Dear Director Schneider:
We are returned Peace Corps/Gabon volunteers (RPCVs) who are concerned about the apparent security problem that exists in Gabon. According to your June 24, 2000, statement, issued in response to the acquittal of those brought to trial for the murder of volunteer Karen Phillips, you are currently reviewing 'all aspects of our presence and programs in Gabon.' We would like to assist you in that review.
In the attached documents, RPCVs have given accounts of their experiences with security matters in Gabon and Peace Corps' response to those experiences.... We believe that these accounts should cause the Peace Corps to change the way it addresses security matters not only in Gabon, but in other developing countries as well. These security incidents ...are unnecessarily frequent.
Because we believe many of these incidents could have been avoided if Peace Corps had handled matters differently, we propose that Peace Corps make the following changes to the way in which it addresses security problems within a country:
1. ESTABLISH A SEPARATE BUDGET for security purposes that would be available for directors and medical officers (PCMO's) to respond immediately to volunteer security concerns, whether in the form of a visit to local authorities, sending money for added security to a house, or relocating a volunteer to a safer region.
2. ESTABLISH MANDATORY PROCEDURES FOR DOCUMENTING all security problems so that changing directorship can make informed decisions....
3. ENSURE THAT PCVS HAVE SAFE HOUSING BEFORE THEY ARRIVE AT THEIR POST. This would include a visit by a senior staff member to the potential site, a visit to site by trainee during training, and installation at site with staff member.
We believe these changes can be accomplished at minimal cost and disruption to the organization. If implemented, future volunteers may be saved from the psychological and physical damage which we know has been suffered by so many returned volunteers....we believe (this) to be a problem existing within the Peace Corps - a systemic problem which has placed volunteers at risk in the past and, if gone unaddressed, will continue to place them at risk in the future.
We remain committed to the three goals of Peace Corps service....
On Behalf of Concerned Gabon RPCVs,
Elizabeth Schuler, TEFL, 1991-93
Susan Feldmann, TEFL, 1992-94
Margaret Kolbe, TESP,1991-93
The above advocacy correspondence included a listing of the responses to a security survey submitted by Gabon RPCVs and PCVs and copies of the original documents as completed by PCVs affected. As I count the documentation (too lengthy to reprint) of incidents and their types, including many reports to PC Gabon and repeated requests for support/intervention, dated from 1988-2000, they include: harassment (with or without guns), 3; robbery, well more than 15; breaking and entering a PCV home, well more than 21; stalking, 2; accostations (with or without guns), 4; assaults (sexual and/or other), 10; personal threats, 4; murder, 1; rape, 1; battery, 1; domestic violence, 1; trespass, 2, murder on PCVs property, 1; and relocation due to security incidents, 6 (including one to Washington, D.C.), although many other PCVs who requested relocation (based on security issues which had already occurred for them) were denied by PC Gabon.
For further information, or to offer comments or support, you may contact: Concerned Gabon RPCVs, 1317 42nd Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122, 415-664-5389, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Ed. note: I personally remember being sexually accosted/mildly assaulted during my service in the 60s, just as our trainers had warned might occur due to cultural differences. The difference between this and Gabon PCVs' experiences seems to be that in my case, host country individuals knew that local PC staff would protect us and support us in the legal arena, and that our service was deeply honored on all sides, so that my negative responses struck fear in the hearts of my accosters, once they knew I was willing to report them.
However, according to these PCV Gabon reports from 40 affected volunteers, PC Gabon repeatedly seems to offer little, if any support, even when serious incidents are reported and intervention pleaded, and Gabonese seem to realize this and to take full advantage).