RPCV Jesse Osmun Accused of Sexually Abusing Young Girls While Working in South Africa

sexosmun1

Caption: South Africa RPCV Jesse Osmun

Former Peace Corps volunteer Jesse Osmun has been accused of sexually abusing young girls while serving in South Africa at a center that helped AIDS victims, molesting children as young as 5 last year and this year. They say the girls called him “uncle” and claim he gave them candy for performing oral sex.

Osmun was arrested July 28 in Connecticut and was charged with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. Osmun did not enter a plea. His attorney won’t comment.

Osmun worked at the Umvoti Aids Center between May 2010 and May 2011. According to its director, Joan Dutton, it was the center workers themselves who reported Osmun, 31, after the alleged incidents.

“We handed it over to the Peace Corps,” said Dutton adding that the case was formally reported by them only once he had returned to America. Dutton said that the past two months have been tumultuous at the center, and that the situation had come as “a blow and complete shock”.

Elizabeth Trudeau, spokeswoman of the US embassy in Pretoria said the embassy was aware of the case and confirmed that the Peace Corps had been informed of the allegations only after Osmun resigned from the organisation and had departed from South Africa.

“We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness. We are committed to working with South African and American authorities to investigate, and if these allegations are true, to hold the individual accountable,” she said.

“This is a terrible case but it shows that the co-operation between the US and South African law enforcement authorities works.

“As this is an ongoing criminal matter, we cannot comment on the specifics of this case. However, we are engaging with both the US and South African authorities to determine the next steps.”

In his blog, Osmun describes himself as a “former Peace Corps volunteer, blogger, non-profit worker, grant writer and self-professed Africa Lover”.

“I’m extremely passionate about helping non-profits and new NGOs connect with African communities and organisations in a way that is mutually beneficial,” Osmun wrote.

Not the First Time

sexobert1

Caption: RPCV Ronald Obert in a club in Costa Rica.

This is not the first time a Peace Corps volunteer has been charged with sexual crimes.

In 2006, Costa Rica RPCV Ronald Obert admitted to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica in the summer of 2003.

Obert admitted to “illicit sexual contact” with a Costa Rican boy on July 6, 2003, said Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The “sexual abuse” occurred in Obert’s apartment while he was in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer working with “PANI,” the country’s child welfare agency, he said.

Defense attorney Paul Meltzer said Obert met the teen at a bar, and not through his volunteer work, and that the sex was “entirely consensual.” Obert was arrested June 23, 2004, at his Graham Hill Road home. A federal indictment alleges Obert performed oral sex on the boy, and provided him with money, drugs and alcohol.

The investigation was launched, and Obert’s Peace Corps status terminated, when a fellow volunteer saw the naked teen emerge from Obert’s bedroom one morning while the colleague was staying with Obert, prosecutors said.

The boy told investigators he had engaged in sexual activity with Obert on multiple occasions and Obert admitted to having sex with the minor, Macaulay said.

Zero Tolerance Policy

sexhandcuffs

“The Peace Corps has a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps,” said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez in a prepared statement at the time of Obert’s arrest.

Obert was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 23, 2004 on two counts of engaging in illicit sexual misconduct and sexual abuse of a minor. Obert pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a minor within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

At the time of Obert’s arrest, “Peace Corps Online” wrote that poor screening might have been a factor in Obert’s crime and pointed to a report on sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church that found that inadequate screening of potential priests, not celibacy or homosexuality, is to blame for the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, according to a blue-ribbon panel formed by the nation’s Catholic bishops. The findings of the 12-member National Review Board were released along with the first-ever report on the scope of sexual abuse of minors in the church.

“Dioceses and [religious] orders simply did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly,” said Bob Bennett, the Washington attorney and board member who spearheaded the report. “As a result, many dysfunctional and psychosexually immature men were admitted into seminaries and ordained in the priesthood.”

It was asserted as part of the public record that Mr. Obert’s resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children.

Mr. Obert stated in his resume that from January - August 2000, he worked in Nicaragua and was responsible for outreach to children in need of food and medical attention; that from October - December of 1998, he worked as a Refugee Camp Volunteer in Nicaragua, post-Hurricane Mitch, where he worked directly with child victims and orphans; and that from June -August of 1998, he worked at an orphanage in Honduras.

This case was the first prosecution of a Peace Corps volunteer for sexually assaulting a minor while serving in the Peace Corps in a foreign country. In addition, this case was one of the first prosecutions making use of 18 U.S.C. § 7(9), a statute enacted under the PATRIOT Act, which expanded the special and maritime jurisdiction of the United States to encompass residences in foreign countries that were being used by U.S. personnel on U.S. missions. Mr. Obert admitted that the Peace Corp, which is an independent federal agency of the United States government, is a mission of the United States government. He also admitted that he was a personnel assigned to a United States mission during his stay in Costa Rica from in or about September of 2001 through on or about July 15, 2003, when he terminated early from the Peace Corps and returned to the United States.

Issue Needs to Be Discussed

At the time of Obert’s arrest, dozens of RPCVs commented on the story on “Peace Corps Online.”

“The various legal issues presented by this case should be raised, explored, explained, argued… not shied away from nor poo-pawed.,” wrote Cal James. “It is often said we are a nation of law, that part of our primary foundation and tradition is the “rule of law”. That being said, it is still more fundamental than posturing that we actually practice and condone the practice of following that tradition. In short, practicing what we preach is by far a very important legacy of our tradition. Furthermore, a fundamental pillar of this legal tradition is that what we preach and practice is subject to open discussion and on a level that non-lawyers understand. In fact,the fact that our legal tradition is so well accepted is most likely due to how open and accessible it is to all people. Let the discussion continue, keep an open mind. And recognize that it is often legal technicalities that guarantee our freedoms.”

“I basically agree with the message that if this fellow is found guilty by any of the jurisdictions, this person should be punished severely,” wrote R. L. Devlin. “In reading through the various messages I find a lot of righteous anger but in fairness, I have to say that this episode would be very unususal in any sampling of Peace Corps vols. in any country. I served in the Philippines form 2002 to 2004 and am convinced that if any PCV had any inkling of what was going on, this guy would have been reported, be brought to country headquarters and cashiered immediately. Even the appearance of illegal or illicit activity would be dealt with. I am sorry for the young man and I sincerely hope his and his neighbors’ image of the Peace Corps and the U.S. can be salvaged”


References:

The Star.  “US man ‘preyed’ on SA kids” by Shain Germaner.  August 5, 2011

Associated Press. “Feds: Ex-Conn. Peace Corps helper molested girls” by John Christofferson. August 4, 2011.

Department of Justice.  “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced that Timothy Ronald Obert, age 36, was indicted yesterday for engaging in sexual relations with a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps Volunteer “   June 28, 2004.

Christian Century.  “Poor screening blamed for priestly abuse crisis”  March 23, 2004.