Peace Corps’ response to crimes against its volunteers

August 25

The Aug. 21 news story “Volunteers on a quest for due process” discussed the 2008 transfer of authority from the Peace Corps’ Office of Inspector General to the Office of Safety and Security to coordinate the response to violent crimes committed against our volunteers. This action was taken to comply with the Inspector General Act of 1978, which prohibits the transfer of operating responsibilities like safety of volunteers to the inspector general.

The Post suggested that, as a result of this transfer of authority, victims today are less likely to get an aggressive response to crimes committed against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our security staff works closely with personnel from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the FBI, as well as with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, to support volunteers who have been victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps successfully works with authorities in host countries to bring perpetrators to justice. In 2009 and 2010, arrests were made in 70 percent of the rape and sexual assault cases in which the victim pursued criminal charges.

The Post article appears to be based on the opinions of former inspector general staff who have no firsthand experience with the current system. Today, that system is effectively bringing perpetrators to justice. At the same time, the agency has been making fundamental reforms to ensure that volunteers who are the victims of crime are fully supported in their recoveries, including hiring the Peace Corps’ first victim advocate. We are committed to providing unconditional and compassionate support to our volunteers.

Aaron S. Williams, Washington

The writer is director of the Peace Corps.

[This response appeared on the Washington Post website as a reply to Aaron's Letter to the Editor about the August 21 news story.]

My family is grateful that David Kotz was serving as Peace Corps inspector general in 2007. When my daughter Julia, a volunteer in the Philippines, went missing that April, Mr. Kotz sent a criminal investigator to conduct a grid search with the Filipino navy and police. Had the Peace Corps’ new policy been in place, I feel confident that Julia’s body would not have been found.

The Peace Corps criminal investigator had been trained not only to lead searches but also to secure the crime scene, gather evidence that would lead to the conviction of the murderer and testify in court. Julia’s killer was sentenced to 40 years in a Manila prison.

It is only because of the advocacy of the inspector general and the training of the criminal investigator, Dave Berry, that our family was given some solace.