The Peace Corps has two basic problems with the issue of sexual assaults: 1) the attacks themselves; 2) the response from the agency.
As for #1 the agency can help here by making Trainees and PCVs vividly aware of where they are in the world, and how to behave to protect themselves. But lets get real. This morning (Sunday) I picked up the New York Times and read where the I.M.F. Chief was arrested and accused of a sex attack at a midtown Manhattan hotel. He was pulled off an Air France first-class seat by the Port Authority police and booked for an alleged attempted rape. He was accused by a chambermaid maid at the exclusive Sofitel Hotel (where his suite of rooms cost $3,000 a night) of sexually assaulting her twice. So, you don’t have to be on some back alley in the middle of a Third World country and be in danger.
But the issue that makes all PCVs, RPCVs, families and friends furious is # 2 and that is ‘what did the Peace Corps do about it, and how did they treat the PCV?’ Time and again, PCVs say that the staff didn’t, won’t, couldn’t support them after the attack, blaming the Volunteer for what had happened to her.
Now I have been a PCV, an APCD, and worked at PC/HQ and I have seen good and bad staff overseas and here at home. For most of the history of the agency the staff, in my opinion, has tried to do their best, but, nevertheless, I am getting emails from PCVs from every decade who have tales to tell about their Peace Corps staff, incidents that were not handled overseas.
I have constantly and continually argued and lobbied for a Peace Corps staff made up of RPCVs. I want RPCVs running the Peace Corps, not political appointees, no ‘think tank’ experts who have never lived in the developing world but write papers about what is wrong in the Third World, no campaign worker who now wants a ‘real’ job and thinks being a CD in the Peace Corps ‘could be a lot of fun!
That said, not all, and not many, RPCVs would make great overseas staff. It takes a special combination of personality, additional overseas experience, and instincts to direct PCVs in difficult, dangerous, and isolated assignments. It is a lot tougher being a PCV today than it was fifty year, and the demands and risks on PCVs–men and women–is much greater today than it was when I was a PCV and APCD in the ’60s. And the job of being a CD or APCD is a lot tougher.
The Country Director remains the most important position in the Peace Corps. The Country Director is the key to the success of the Peace Corps in any given country, and in the House Hearings and the ’new plans and policies’ to handle sexual assaults of the agency, I don’t see any hands go up about how the agency is now selecting overseas staff. It doesn’t seem to be addressed by PC/W. But maybe they think that it is already a given. But pick the right CD and while it won’t stop sexual assaults on PCVs, it will tell the Peace Corps Community that PCVs are in good hands.