Peace Corps volunteers ‘blamed and fired’ after reporting sexual assaults
A female Peace Corps volunteer who accused a male American official of sexually assaulting women in Albania, claims the government agency fired her. The accused man, meanwhile, was given the option to resign without facing misconduct charges, said the whistle blower, Bonnie Scott. These allegations have surfaced after a CBS News investigation revealed that roughly one in five Peace Corps volunteers are sexually assaulted during their service.
Only half of all victims went on to report the crimes, according to a recent anonymous safety questionnaire examined by the news channel.
Scott, who was let go only days after reporting the alleged sexual assault by the American official, was fired for improperly filling out paperwork.
‘They basically kicked me out, 10 days after they let this sex offender just resign,’ Scott said.
Scott and other Peace Corps alumni are now charging the organization with fostering a culture of victim-blaming.
‘I feel like Peace Corps failed me every step of the way,’ said Danae Smith, 23, who was the victim of an attempted sexual assault during her time volunteering in the Dominican Republic.
Smith said she was forced off the main road in the town of Los Mosquitos, where she worked for eight months, by two men armed with machetes.
The alleged attack happened in April.
‘My thought was they’re going to rape me. These men are going to rape me,’ Smith said.
The Peace Corps sent Smith home within a week of the incident.
‘They also told me that my attack had occurred because I had been walking in my site and that as a volunteer, it was my job to have been more proactive to prevent it from happening,’ Smith said.
On orders from the United States Congress, in 2011 the Peace Corps hired Kellie Greene, a victims’ rights advocate, to oversee the agency’s work toward better handling its response to sexual violence.
Greene was suspended without pay earlier this month for allegedly creating a hostile work environment.
But Greene defended herself, saying that she was punished for doing her job.
‘I pushed the agency to really do what they have the capability of doing,’ Greene said. ‘And that’s what’s so frustrating because they have the ability to do this and it is a choice not to.’
‘I’m getting phone calls and I’m getting emails from returned volunteers that are in tears because they can’t get the help that they need,’ Greene said.
The investigation into the Peace Corps by CBS News found that some agency employees attempted to limit the number of in-country counseling sessions for sexual assault survivors to a maximum of six.
In one 2014 email obtained in the investigation, a Peace Corps clinical psychologist that a volunteer’s need for ongoing therapy was ‘an indication’ that the volunteer was ‘not a good fit for Peace Corps Service.’
Another Peace Corps official was quoted as saying about a volunteer asking for additional counseling: ‘I’m sure this will make no difference in her behavior.’
Reports by the Inspector General show multiple occasions on which Peace Corps personnel who were accused of sexual assault re-applying to the agency after resigning and facing no administrative action.
One report from 2014 has the Inspector General warning that the Peace Corps failed to detect past misconduct in their screening process for re-hiring.
A person who once admitted to violating the Peace Corps’ sexual assault policy was later re-hired to work at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.
‘That person is no longer employed by Peace Corps. But I will also say that we are putting in place systems, mechanisms that will make sure that that does not happen again in the future,’ said Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. ‘This is unacceptable to us and we are trying to change the culture.’
‘We have made enormous progress, but it is a huge task and every single day we are providing better care,’ Hessler-Radelet said.
Hessler-Radelet also defended the agency’s record, saying that 96 percent of volunteers questioned for a sexual assault response quality assurance survey indicated they are ‘satisfied with their services.’
That anonymous survey was sent to just 183 people, out of whom less than a third took the time to respond, according to CBS News.
The Peace Corps says it is retraining employees who appear unsympathetic to trauma victims, and the agency has instituted more than 3- reforms regarding sexual assault.
The agency denies it suspended Greene in retaliation.
Nov 30, 2015
Category: DR News |