“Despite critical reports by its own Inspector General, the General Accountability Office, and prior Congressional hearings, Peace Corps’ safety and security failures have been a recurrent problem with tragic consequences for thousands of volunteers. Some who seek to ignore those problems have asserted that volunteer service, itself, is inherently risky as an excuse for lax and ineffective safety and security measures. That attitude is unacceptable.” Read the complete statement at:

http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press_display.asp?id=1819

Please note:  The links for the actual testimony are no longer active.  The testimony should be available in hard copy at those public libraries that are

federal depositories.  The hearings were held on May 11, 2011 before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  A librarian should be able to help you access the hard copies, or tell you how to find them.  The links are now here just for reference.

The hearings can be viewed at the link provided by Stan Meisler:

http://www.c-span.org/Events/House-Foreign-Affairs-Cmte-Hearing-on-the-Peace-Corps-50th-Anniversary/10737421475-1/

The Committee is still soliciting input from Volunteers. The webpage is: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/

The Hearings were excellent, and represented, I believe, the very best of the Peace Corps community. The testimony of the RPCV women who had been assaulted was graphic.  Their  resilience and resolve was inspiring. They were brave and to a woman, said their intent was to secure legislation to protect serving Volunteers and that it would be heartbreaking for them if their testimony were used to defund Peace Corps. The Committee members gave assurance that was not the intent of the process. Rather, legislation is being considered to guarantee that serving Volunteers are as secure as possible and that “best practices” are in place to support anyone assaulted during service. Director Williams said he would support such legislation.

There was persistent pattern of Peace Corps response that suggested a culture of “blame the victim.” When the women Volunteers initially complained of harassment or threats, their concerns were dismissed.  None were allowed to transfer to a different site.  After reporting the assault, the victims received minimal support in-country and were flown back to DC, alone.  There, the support received was minimal.  The women reported the difficulty of dealing with Workman’s Compensation.

The Committee’s frustration with the failure of the various Peace Corps administrations to deal effectively with the problems was apparent. There was a reference to “transient leadership.”  Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked Director Williams, point blank, if the Five Year Rule should be abolished.  Director Williams said “No.” He explained the importance of allowing staff positions for the influx of “fresh blood” represented by RPCVs returning from the field and bringing that experience and current knowledge to Peace Corps Washington. But, he indicated he would be receptive to any changes that would result in greater security for Volunteers.  Williams also described improvements he would order immediately.  He had just hired a Victims’ Advocate.  Victims would be escorted when they were returning to Washington DC.  And a training video that spoke of “minor and major” assaults would be discontinued as it also gave the impression of “blaming the victim.”

In addition to the RPCV women who testified, the First Response Action group deserves so much credit for their work in identifying the problems, supporting victims, and promoting this legislation.  Their website is: http://www.firstresponseaction.org/

There are more RPCVs who deserve to be mentioned. RPCVs Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff wrote: “A Twenty Point Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps.” It was an extensive analysis of problems within Peace Corps and presented carefully detailed solutions. (http://peacecorpsonline.org/)  Based on their advocacy, Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (S. 732), was introduced by Senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy in Congress. Ludlam and Hirschoff presented testimony in favor of that legislation at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 25, 2007.  Unfortunately, the legislation was not passed before that Congress adjourned. Evidently, that legislation did not have the support of the then Peace Corps administration. A tragic vindication for Ludlam and Hirschoff was part of the current hearings.  Lois Puzey, the gallant mother of slain PCV Kate Puzey, testified that, in her opinion, if that legislation had been passed, her daughter would be still be alive.

Lawrence F. Lihosit, in his research for the book “Peace Corps Chronology 1961 -2010″ identified the pattern of increasing assaults on Peace Corps Volunteers.  He noted the problem in the introduction and also sent each committee member copies of his book.  That too had a positive impact, I believe.

I urge everyone to view the Hearings and to support the legislation when it is introduced, in its final version. And thank all those RPCVs who have made such an important contribution.