2011.01.28: January 28, 2011: Lina Lowen writes: Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Benin: Peace Corps Benin : Peace Corps Benin: Newest Stories: 2011.01.14: January 14, 2011: Report by ABC News 20/20: Parents of Slain Volunteer Kate Puzey Say Peace Corps Error Led to Murder: 2006.12.01: December 1, 2006: PCOL Editorial: The Peace Corps Needs a Procedure in Place for Death Notifications to the Families of Volunteers who have Died in Service to ease the Suffering and Pain of the Grieving Process of the Volunteer's Survivors and Families : 2011.01.30: January 30, 2011: Malawi RPCV Michael L. Buckler writes: Some Suggestions for Making the Peace Corps less risky for volunteers : 2011.01.28: January 28, 2011: Lina Lowen writes: Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?

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Lina Lowen writes: Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?

Lina Lowen writes: Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?

"So I've been reading, researching...and learning that ABC News only exposed the tip of the iceberg. This tendency of the Peace Corps to downplay, misdirect, and sweep things under the rug has been going on for decades, and a number of women have paid for it with their bodies, their peace of mind, and in some instances their lives."

Lina Lowen writes: Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?

Is the Peace Corps Dangerous for Women?
Friday January 28, 2011

Like the majority of Americans, I've always had a good impression of the Peace Corps. My husband had contemplated doing a stint with them when he was fresh out of college, and he and I have discussed volunteering when we both reached retirement age.

My older daughter Jaye has always wanted to travel the world and spend a portion of her life in service to others, and when she looked into the Peace Corps she thought it would be a great way to satisfy both desires. Having recently added an Education minor to her college studies in preparation for a Peace Corps stint, she's clearly planning ahead to make it happen.

And I was tremendously proud of her and endlessly supportive...until a couple of weeks ago.

That night, Jaye's younger sister Em and I were channel surfing and clicked past a woman talking about rape...and the Peace Corps?

We both looked at each other. Did we hear right? Rape in the Peace Corps?

Em, who had the remote, clicked back...and that's when we saw and heard the stories of 6 women who'd been sexually assaulted -- even raped -- during their time volunteering in the Peace Corps. They were telling their stories on ABC's investigative newsmagazine 20/20.

That's when I heard Adrianna Ault Nolan say, ""I have two daughters now and I would never ever let them join the Peace Corps."

Nolan was raped in 1998 while serving in Haiti as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Years later, she's still struggling with what happened to her.

I felt sick to my stomach.

I had no idea this was happening. I thought the Peace Corps was a universally positive experience, a great opportunity for a kid fresh out of college.

That night, I went poking around the internet. Little things began to show up. Here's an observation from a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa posted on his blog Donut Orbitals:

In a purely selfish sense, I am constantly thankful for being male in South Africa. The way women are treated here is nothing short of grotesque, and female volunteers routinely endure public sexual harassment that would usually earn the offenders a savage beating in the US. I don't even witness the worst of it, because (as the single girls will tell you) even the presence of another male volunteer drastically reduces the attention.

When I posted a link to the ABC 20/20 story on Facebook, more items surfaced.

One friend who wanted to go into the Peace Corps had a mother hell-bent on stopping her; the mom introduced the daughter to female volunteers who'd been there, done that, and had less than terrific experiences. Irritated at her mother's meddling, the daughter forged on but learned she'd have to graduate from college first. She ended up doing other equally interesting things with her life, but here's what she found out about the Peace Corps:

What I heard from people I spoke with was a general concern that women were often placed in fairly remote places without other volunteers in close proximity, which put them at considerable risk. I wouldn't write the Peace Corps off, because thousands volunteer and come home having had a life-changing experience. But if it were my kid, I'd make sure she was very well-informed before she signed up.

I bolded that last line because it was my wake up call. I knew, from my friend's own reaction, that nagging my daughter and telling her NOT to join the Peace Corps was tantamount to lighting a fire underneath her. She'd stick to her guns with even greater passion.

So I've been reading, researching...and learning that ABC News only exposed the tip of the iceberg. This tendency of the Peace Corps to downplay, misdirect, and sweep things under the rug has been going on for decades, and a number of women have paid for it with their bodies, their peace of mind, and in some instances their lives.

Just as I was finishing up my article last night, I heard on ABC World News that I'm not the only one who's upset:

[A] Congressional committee announced plans for hearings on the Peace Corps' handling of more than a thousand cases of female volunteers who were raped or sexually assaulted over the last decade.

"This is very upsetting. If these numbers are accurate this is something that Congress definitely should investigate," Rep. Rohrabacher, R-California, Chairman of the House subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, told ABC News.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, called for the hearing Wednesday, telling ABC News he was "furious and sad" after watching the "20/20" report.

I hope this goes somewhere. Not just for the Peace Corps victims of rape and assault; for the current female volunteers who are at risk and live in fear; for the Peace Corps wannabes who believe in the idea of international understanding and cooperation as promoted by President John F. Kennedy when he established the program; or for my daughter.

I hope this goes somewhere because just like the women who serve in the military, the women who serve in the Peace Corps deserve our utmost protection from rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. If it's happening, we need to stop it. If it's being covered up, we need to find and expose examples. And if we want more women to sign up, we have to make sure they know all the facts, not just what looks and sounds good.

I hope the Congressional hearings move forward. I hope the Peace Corps makes the necessary changes to protect every single volunteer, female and male alike. In two years, I hope -- no, I want and expect -- to send my daughter off to the Peace Corps with pride. And without the slightest bit of hesitation on her part...or mine.

Related article: Rape & Sexual Assault in the Peace Corps - Are Women Safe?

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January 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

(1) whiteknyght :

Not to lessen the seriousness of the issue at hand, but the images used on ABC News to convey the story had an "interesting" subtext to say the least. Six white, All-American girls, full of ideals and out to make the world better, raped by a bunch of brown men from countries that many in some traditional circles in America would say we should just forget about.
January 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

(2) Nada Zulu :

This is serious, folks. The Peace Corps routinely downplays the safety hazards that, particularly, female volunteers face. These women do pay for it with their lives. I served, and my partner also served. She was abducted, beaten, gangraped, and left in the wilderness despite having repeatedly told HQ about ongoing safety concerns in her remote location. They told her she could leave or ‘deal with it.' This is shockingly common occurrence.
January 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

(3) Celestina :

What a shame that individuals who have never gone overseas, never lived in the tough places in America or never made real sacrifices are those who write blogs like these and get attention. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who was sexcually assaulted I was never treated better and taken care of more kindly as when this happened to me. It is time the media portrays all sides of the story, not just what they think will get ratings. If mother's like you are writing and thinking the PC is a nice way for your child to travel and gain experience while figuring out what they want… well PC does not need people like that. PC is a sacrifice to go and serve. It is not easy. You must adapt to another culture- not they to ours. Your daughter is more likely to be assaulted on her college campus than serving in the PC. Helicopter mother's stop already!
January 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

(4) womensissues :

Celestina, you make assumptions about me despite knowing nothing about me. I have lived overseas and in the tough places of America, I have worked with underserved populations and adapted to other cultures. I am not Caucasian.

I've discussed with my daughter alternate ways to serve such as Americorps, where volunteers are put into teams and never serve individually; this lessens the risk of getting into situations where volunteers are in over their heads. There are also opportunities for volunteers to work directly with NGOs on the ground in specific countries, where she would serve within a structured organization well supported by supervisors.

The issue is that the Peace Corps has been known to place young women into environments where they are often isolated and alone. It is naive to expect that a single white woman will be respected and live unmolested in cultures where women have limited rights and are second class citizens.

Read the article linked to this post and explain to me how the PC's own statistical data shows that in 2009 over 100 young women were raped/sexually assaulted. Why were young women who asked for reassignment ignored? Why the women who talked to ABC News told to lie when they returned stateside?

Are you a parent? Would you encourage your daughter to volunteer for the Peace Corps knowing she'd be sexually assaulted just like you? Sacrifice is understandable if it means giving up material goods, eating at a subsistence level, and living without electricity or running water. But sacrifice that deliberately exposes a woman to the risk of rape is too great for any woman to make.
January 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

(5) Concerned :

Americorps volunteers do serve alone in many instances. Many times Peace Corps Volunteers are working with Host country nationals to lessen the assault on women so with your logic we should just stay at home where no one gets raped right? I mean who cares what the rape rate in South Africa is, did you look it up before posting things from a SA peace corps volunteer. We should just let South Africans get raped and not really worry about it. What about the people who do not have a choice to hide in America. The fact that you are more likely to get raped in college is a great statistic. Thanks for bringing it up again previous writer. Peace Corps does not sweep these things under the rug the thing is that if you did the slightest bit of research, which you eventually did, you would find out the risks in serving your country. Instead you were one of the ones called by Kennedy but sadly you did not answer. i have met to many of your generation who say oh peace corps I thought about doing that but making money and getting on with MY life just seemed better. They are the same people who are shocked to find out that there is rape in developing countries. Please stop saying things about an organization you really dont know much about, clearly from your delusions about what happened during service that went over decades. Sexual assault is a blight in the world but we should not run away from it but meet it head on. I congratulate all volunteers who have served their country especially the ones who have had to sacrifice a piece of themselves to do it.
January 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

(6) Alexk :

South Africa's constitution affords more human rights to their citizens, including women, than the American one so to assume they are second class citizens shows your ignorance.

The title of your article answers itself and does not allow for anyone, even someone who has been in the organization you criticize to contradict you. Good journalism.

I agree with concerned in that AmeriCorps volunteers frequently serve alone. Have you done any research about what you are writing about.

I would like you to say where you have lived because I do not buy your oh I have lived there answer to the question.

Many women in peace corps do not experience as much harassment as is being highlighted and I have also seen that following the safety guidelines and cultural suggestions outlined by Peace Corps women can have a satisfying uneventful experience.
January 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

(7) Felicia :

I certainly appreciate the writer's concern. 20/20 did an excellent job of making the Peace Corps look irresponsible and dangerous. However, there are thousands and thousands of women who serve every year without problem. Is serving abroad more dangerous than staying home? Yes. Without a doubt. Would I have given up my Peace Corps experience for anything? No. You might want to ask yourself if ABC news would get more viewers if it presented the Peace Corps as it really is: a slightly flawed, definitely under-funded agency that still manages to do a fantastic job.
January 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm

(8) womensissues :

Although it is not the policy of this blog to "out" those who comment, it's important that readers understand the truth behind these critical comments. Two are from the same IP address yet are masquerading as different individuals, and one IP address is from within peacecorps.gov.

I have been advised by a colleague who has served as a high-level Congressional staff person to forward these emails and IP addresses to the Congressional committee conducting the hearings.

My article which this blog refers to was well-researched from multiple primary sources including the Peace Corps' own Report on Volunteer Safety.

Clearly a concerted effort is going on to attack any media coverage which disseminates information and facts that the Peace Corps is uncomfortable with.

If the agency has nothing to hide, then the hearings will reveal that this criticism is unfounded.

But unsubstantiated comments from individuals who do not attach legitimate names to their postings should be taken with a grain of salt.

Readers must do their own research. Several legitimate news outlets and journalists over the years have investigated and found the same problems played out again and again. A Google search will reveal these sources with little effort.
January 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm

(9) womensissues :

The Dayton Daily News did an extensive investigation into safety and security issues regarding volunteers in the Peace Corps. Here's the URL – I urge you to click through – and here's the background on the investigation:

"The Dayton Daily News spent 20 months examining thousands of records on assaults on Peace Corps volunteers occurring around the world during the past four decades.

Reporters interviewed more than 500 people in 11 countries and filed more than 75 Freedom of Information Act requests and appeals, obtaining thousands of documents and computer records made public for the first time. Many of the records were obtained in other countries, and others were released only after the newspaper sued the Peace Corps in U.S. District Court in Dayton.

The examination found that young Americans - many just out of college and the majority of them women - are put in danger by fundamental practices of the Peace Corps that have remained unchanged for decades."
January 30, 2011 at 12:03 am

(10) alexk :

Two people who use the same computer can't disagree with you? To imply that there is masquerading going on is quite silly. I like a good conspiracy story as much as the next but sometimes the simplest answer is the one that is true. Please dont have the commission waste their time on comments on a blog. I think their money would be better spent on how to further protect Volunteers who are serving. I am sorry we disagree but can we do it with civility. Maybe some of the things that I wrote came off harsh but I get upset when people say things that are not true and try to limit a dialogue by creating a space where only one opinion can live. I would like to point out that I do not disagree with you about most of what you said. I think the idea and spirit of the commission is a good thing. When people seek the truth it can only help an organization. Since this is supposed to be a dialogue I realized that you did not answer any of the concerns I voiced. Are you going to comment on them or just play the blame game, creating a diversion so that you can discredit what I have said without having to answer for yourself
January 30, 2011 at 12:35 am

(11) womensissues :

AlexK, you've twisted my words around to imply that I am disparaging South Africa. I did no such thing. This is what I said, verbatim and it was a general statement about service overseas: "It is naive to expect that a single white woman will be respected and live unmolested in cultures where women have limited rights and are second class citizens."

I stated that I have lived overseas. Where I have lived a) has nothing to do with this story b) is being used by you as a tactic to deflect from the primary issue of women's safety in the Peace Corps c) is none of your business. Put your entire name and your photo on your comment as mine appears, link your personal bio to your comment as mine is linked to this blog, and risk the irate and occasionally unbalanced reader stalking you as has happened to me, and then we'll be on even ground.

I gladly welcome you posting your own Peace Corps volunteer experiences, dates of service, nation in which you served, your background and qualifications, and current connection to the agency. And I offer that to the other commenter who "shares" your computer. I truly hope you both post this information as you feel strongly about the media coverage the agency has been getting. Those of us reading would appreciate knowing the authority and hard-earned expertise you bring to your opinions. I say this not facetiously but in all sincerity.

Hiding behind anonymity is not an example of "civility" - in fact, it's rather uncivil. It's the opposite of transparency.

If my intent was truly to "creat[e] a space where only one opinion can live" as you remarked, your comment would not be here for others to read. I would have deleted it but I choose to leave other opinions on because they encourage frank discourse. Obviously, there's a dialogue going on with varying views expressed, and that's in everybody's best interest. The Peace Corps included.

Please note that I have never demanded the Peace Corps be shut down. My blog post closes with the hope that this existing problem will be corrected so that my own daughter and other young women like her can fulfill their dreams of becoming Peace Corps volunteers. Personally attacking me only hurts your attempt to portray the Peace Corps in a positive light.
January 30, 2011 at 2:20 am

(12) Alexk :

I always like to make generalized statements about living overseas when referring to different countries, cultures, and people. It always helps me keep the facts straight. It has never incited fear or tarnished anyone's reputation.

I am sorry my wife and I cannot afford to buy separate computers with separate IP addresses.

It is comical that you will not list where you have lived but I am called to task on listing where I have lived. Here I thought you were the professional who had to legitimate what they said and not "the unbalanced reader", thanks for the implication.

Clearly I will not meet your burden of proof or legitimacy because ironically Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to publicly tell where they are serving because it jeopardizes their safety, as per policy. Sadly you will have to wait until my service has finished to publicly expose me by which time I hope you have not forgotten about this serious cause.
February 2, 2011 at 6:17 am

(13) Sallie :

I think the comments have missed the whole point of the writers article. If you have a different opinion, fine, that's what the comments are for. I am a mother that would be just as worried about my daughter with the PC's track record. NO ONE said they didn't do good things. If they are so concerned with helping people they would help all people, including their volunteers. The newsletter is about women's issues. This article is very appropriate.
February 4, 2011 at 2:20 am

(14) Jamelle :

Jeez people are you insane???? It's astonishing how many young men and woman do PC to "broaden their horizons" and want to do "honorable things to help the world become a better place". It's naive to think because your american your "untouchable". How dumb can you people be your going into a third world country it doesn't matter if you are placed in an area that is more populated or a place that is isolated because you look different from the rest of the country's citizens you are already automatically a target. I've live in a third world country and being fairer skined you get ooggled and stares and harrassing comments. It's never going to be safe if you stick out like a sore thumb and you're going to get unwanted attention. Realize you on your own are a danger to yourself already and protect yourself and fight back by knowing your rights. And come on you have to admit americans do not know what they are getting into when they do these things. You can't spread peace and love to country's where those concepts are foreign and all that is known is crime, embezzelment, underground trafficking, bribery and all that. You want to make a difference? here are some tips : dont do it!!! If the peace corps won't protect you then why put yourself through something
February 4, 2011 at 3:06 am

(15) Jack :

It is horrid that humans treat other humans this way. But as an American, I have to say most Americans are idiots. Smug, entitled, ignorant idiots. The world does NOT need your help. These countries have problems because of imperial culture. If you are a month and you send you lil ignorant daughter to a 3rd world country, where she thinks they all want hugs and maybe a lil scripture reading, this is what happens.
February 4, 2011 at 3:07 am

(16) Jamelle :

that will end bad, and if you have to go and you've made up your mind already don't act like a raging idiot speaking loudly in english and attracting more attention to yourself, and next don't act like you are on vacation – because it's not !!!! having nightly drinks and going out to dinners may seem normal in north america but people living in those desolute areas are desperate and have NOTHING TO LOOSE, don't provoke them by acting superior to them. act appropriately and be humble! Respect that you aren't in america anymore and learn to live like those people around you this will make you less of a target because you don't make people feel jealous of you. Anyway to the author of this article I do hope you let your daughter know the realities of PC and that its not a vacation you can't solve the " what will i do with my life" or " i want to change the world" attitude. Its a sacrifice and you're going to have to know it's never a safe situation. If I were you I'd think twice about letting them go, you're leaving them in the hands of an organization who are until now still full of lies. How can you trust that?

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: January, 2011; Peace Corps Benin; Directory of Benin RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Benin RPCVs; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Crime; Murder; Television; Criticism

When this story was posted in February 2011, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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As the Peace Corps' Founding Director Sargent Shriver laid the foundations for the most lasting accomplishment of the Kennedy presidency. Shriver spoke to returned volunteers at the Peace Vigil at Lincoln Memorial in September, 2001 for the Peace Corps 40th. "The challenge I believe is simple - simple to express but difficult to fulfill. That challenge is expressed in these words: PCV's - stay as you are. Be servants of peace. Work at home as you have worked abroad. Humbly, persistently, intelligently. Weep with those who are sorrowful, Care for those who are sick. Serve your wives, serve your husbands, serve your families, serve your neighbors, serve your cities, serve the poor, join others who also serve," said Shriver. "Serve, Serve, Serve. That's the answer, that's the objective, that's the challenge."

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