Celebrating the Peace Corps
Published: May 21, 2011
To the Editor:

Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out on Rape” (news article, May 11) threatens to overshadow 50 years of service by Americans in some 140 countries around the world.

It is true that sexual assaults happen to Peace Corps volunteers and women all around the world, and yes, we should all grieve over these terrible acts. It is also true that from time to time such tragedies may not be handled well by some agency staff as well as some host-country counterparts. But these facts belie a larger and more important truth.

The Peace Corps has had more than 200,000 volunteers working in some of the most remote corners of the world safely and successfully. But even with rigorous training and responsible oversight, volunteers can never be completely immune from sexual assault and violent crime. And yet Peace Corps volunteers are often safer in the huts and villages of half the globe than in our own cities or college campuses.

The Peace Corps appears to have fallen victim to those in Congress using a serious and emotional issue in an effort to reduce funding for one of this country’s best and most cost-effective programs when we should be celebrating its legacy and expanding its programs.

We grieve with our sister volunteers who are victims. We support their demand that the agency improve response and treatment services. But as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, let us celebrate the thousands of Americans working to eradicate poverty and bridge cultural understanding around the globe.

Washington, May 11, 2011

The writer was the Peace Corps’ first coordinator of Women in Development and is now president of the International Women’s Democracy Center.