Tony D'Souza has something to say about rape in the Peace Corps!

[A thoughtful comment from Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02; Madagascar 2002-03)]

This drivel was posted by an Illuminati-obsessed conspiracy theory website which regularly publishes anti-Semitic material. The “Great Peace Corps Rape Witch-Hunt of 2011” is revealing its true colors.

There is no doubt that Peace Corps Administration mistreated Volunteer rape victims and should be held accountable. But no matter what improvements Peace Corps Admin makes, rape is a crime that happens everywhere, in every country, to every race. No military, police, or governmental force anywhere in the history of the world has been able to stop it.

According to a February, 2010 NPR report, research funded by the US Department of Justice says that 1 in 5 US college women will be raped. That means that at a theoretical US university with 8500 students (roughly the number of current Peace Corps Volunteers), where half the students are women (4250), 850 will be raped. In comparison, the Great Peace Corps Rape Witch-Hunt has been built on miniscule numbers. As quoted in the above article, “The New York Times reported that from 2000 to 2009, ‘an average of 22 women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape… During that time, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes.'”

While 221 rapes sound like a shocking number, over the same ten-year period at a theoretical US university with an equivalent number of students, US DOJ research estimates 8500 women will have been raped. 8500 American college women raped versus 221 Peace Corps Volunteers raped. Even doubling the number of Volunteers raped to 442 to account for under-reporting still leaves an American woman at an American university with a 95% greater chance of being raped than a woman serving abroad in the Peace Corps.

So why have The New York Times, ABC News, and this Illuminati-conspiracy website run this story about rape in the Peace Corps when the numbers don’t point to any sort of emergency whatsoever? The idea of young, white American women being raped by men of color has deep roots in our culture, taps into our latent racist fears, sell papers, attracts viewers, and causes uninformed public hysteria, as it has in this case. The Volunteer women at the center of this story were raped in ‘colored’ Third World countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Mozambique, and Niger. Kate Puzey was murdered, of course, in ‘black’ Benin.

We Americans have a long history of ignoring actual numbers to incite dangerous racially-based mass outrage. In the 19th century, ‘white slave panics’ swept our country despite an almost complete lack of evidence that white women were being trafficked by foreign men of color. The myth of the black rapist was used to justify lynchings during the Reconstruction period. Jews in particular were singled out for persecution as being heavily involved in the fictional white slave trade, as is thoroughly detailed on another racist website, JewWatch.com. Even today, vitriolic Nancy Grace capitalized on the Natalee Holloway case, gaining a wide viewing audience because of a single missing blonde girl.

The danger during the Great Peace Corps Rape Witch-Hunt, of course, is that the Peace Corps has been hurt by it. Folks who have always wanted to see the Peace Corps eliminated have been able to dress their attacks in the sheep’s clothing of speaking out on behalf of the rape victims. In reality, however, much of the attention this story has drawn derives from a sub-text of racism. Take these lines from the article itself: “Our culture industry is putting these girls at heightened risk by portraying Western women as willing sluts. Third-world men are gorging on Western films and getting the idea your daughter is a bitch in heat. This increases the chance of rapes and attacks.” The language in this article is baldly fallacious-why use the word ‘girls,’ for example, when we’re talking about adult women? Why use the words ‘your daughter’ if not to stoke fear? 

While it’s been disgusting to know how Peace Corps Admin failed Volunteers who were raped, the fact is the risk of being raped while serving in the Peace Corps is low. Unfortunately, this story has lost sight of that, and is being used to propagate the same racist prejudices that the Peace Corps has worked to change.

14 Comments

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  • Of course, Peace Corps has been hurt by the bad publicity and rightly so. There is no other way to hold it accountable. Kate Puzey’s mother testified before Congress in May of 2011 that if the recommendations presented to Congress in 2007 by Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff Returned Peace Corps Volunteers had been incorporated into law, her daughter might well still be alive. One reason the legislation was not passed was that the then Peace Corps administration opposed it. That is horrifying.

    And what has changed between 2007 and 2011 when the legislation affording Peace Corps Volunteers minimum protection and supportive services was allowed to die in committee and now when the bill has been passed by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee? Bad publicity? No, It was honest reporting about what happened to Peace Corps Volunteers. It was the courageous work done by RPCVs of First Response Action to correct the problems. This finally created enough sufficient public support for this legislation to have a chance of becoming law.

    I think it irresponsible to cite the tired old “be raped on campus or be raped in the Third World,” stats without also stating the truth. Women on college campuses have more protection, immediate access to medical care and victim services, due process rights and access to legal recourse than serving Peace Corps Volunteers. That is outrageous.

    The purpose of the legislation is to provide, by law, the same services to serving Peace Corps Volunteers that women in the United States have. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act is now before Congress. I urge you all to contact your Congressional delegation.
    http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/kate-puzey-peace-corps-volunteer-protection-act/
    Perhaps if famous authors had lent their considerable talents to supporting such legislation back in 2007, Katy Puzey would be alive today to personally thank them.

  • It is very hard to try to deal with these issues unemotionally. Let us take the awful case of Kate Puzey. The PC Director did not keep Kate’s e-mail message confidential. That was a stupid thing to do. If I understand the case, the director let the information slip out to another member of the PC staff who then informed the killer. Would a whistle blower law have made the director any wiser? I’m not so sure. Moreover, if the PC director had kept the information confidential, would Kate be alive? In a small school in a small village in Benin, it would probably have not been very difficult for the killer to figure out who had reported his illicit activities. It is simply too glib to assume that a whistle blower law or any other law would have prevented Kate’s murder.

  • Thank you, Tony D’Souza, for weighing in on this issue so brilliantly. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I lived in NYC for 20 years before joining the Peace Corps and serving in Gabon (1996-98). I felt safer as a PCV in Gabon than I did as a single woman on the streets of New York. I also grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey witnessing unspeakable domestic violence. I felt safer as a PCV in Gabon than I did as a kid in my hometown.

    So far, the commentators I’ve seen on this rape-in-the-Peace-Corps subject have all been men — which reminds me of how vociferously men comment on the subject of abortion. I’d like to hear more from women RPCVs about their actual, first-hand experiences.

  • I don’t see how after all this time and all this publicity you totally miss the essential point. It’s not the number of rapes though that was bad enough. It’s the appalling way the victims were treated afterwards by the Peace Corps. They were often shuttled off into the broader world as if they were complicit and might soil the image of the agency. But you’ll probably will come up with some figure showing that young assault victims at Harvard were treated badly by the administration.

  • Bonnie,

    I am female. I am a RPCV. I served in the Peace Corps from 1963-65 in Colombia. Based on my experience, I support this legislation. I blog here under my legal name
    Joanne Roll. The title of my blog is : Peace Corps: Public Records. I had been posting as Joey: and that still attaches to my posting. I am sorry if this was confusing.

    I strongly recommend that you visit the website of First Response Action and learn firsthand from the brave RPCV women who suffered assaults and lack of appropriate support from Peace Corps and have formed an advocacy group so that other women will not have to experience what they did.

    Stan,

    We don’t know what would have happened is there had been a whistle blower law. I suspect that the Volunteer would have been removed from her site for her protection.
    What we do KNOW is that there was NO law and Katy Puzey is dead.

    I cannot understand why the focus is not on supporting the legislation.

  • Lawrence, (Lorenzo)

    You have been absolutely at the forefront of this fight and for which you should be congratulated. However, I would like to make one small correction to your recent comment. I suspect that no one at Harvard would dare not treat a victim with respect and care. Here is why:
    From the testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:
    http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/66292.pdf

    “Next we will hear from Karestan Chase Koenen. Dr. Koenen was a Peace Corps volunteer from ’91 to ’93. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and she studies the interplay of genetic and environ- mental factors in the production of stress-related mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.

    Dr. KOENEN… Yes. I am an Associate Professor at Colum- bia University and an Adjunct Professor at Harvard University. I teach about psychological trauma. My understanding of and my passion for the topic are the result both of my education and, un- fortunately, my own experience with the Peace Corps.”

    (Note to Tony, Bonnie and Stan: The entire testimony before this committee is available in pdf format at the website above.)

  • This is a terrific item and it is good that someone actually took the time to research the numbers to unmask the great rape witch hunt. Thank you, Tony. Undoubtedly Peace Corps Administration was lax in its response to rape victims. But the great danger now is that Peace Corps is so eager to correct its errors that it has fixated in the opposite direction. As Director Williams continually says “Security is Peace Corps number one priority.” What? Number one priority should be devising good programs for PCVs. Number one priority should be making sure PCVs can work effectively. Security should be a concern, of course, along with medical care and other administrative issues. But let’s focus on Peace Corps Goals. Those of us who served in the early days of Peace Corps we can not remember any discussion of Security — and we survived and concentrated on projects and our work.

  • Joey: Lawrence Leamer ain’t me. I’ve already said plenty in the preface of my book Peace Corps Chronology. I supplied free copies to about 50 Congressmen and women. Each copy was accompanied by a personal letter which outlined even more suggestions.

  • Tony D’Souza,

    The article you cite is dated 1999. The RPCV I referenced is:
    Karestan Chase Koenen, currently an Adjunct Professor at Harvard. There is nothing to suggest she was on the faculty in 1999. Do you have a current reference?

    From the House Hearings that I linked:

    “Next we will hear from Karestan Chase Koenen. Dr. Koenen was a Peace Corps volunteer from ’91 to ’93. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and she studies the interplay of genetic and environ- mental factors in the production of stress-related mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.”

    My assumption is that Dr. Koenen, currently on the staff of Harvard, would be instrumental in making sure that all victims received appropriate treatment.

  • BHillenbrand,
    RE:
    “Those of us who served in the early days of Peace Corps we can not remember any discussion of Security — and we survived and concentrated on projects and our work”

    I don’t know what constitutes “early days of Peace Corps,” in your mind. I served from 1963 – 1965 in Colombia. Early enough, I presume. At any rate, you don’t speak for me. I remember very well discussions of Security. I don’t think that Peace Corps was as knowledgeable about risk or the ways to minimize it as it should have been. Based on my experience, I welcome the improvement in the treatment of all Volunteers in regard to issues of crime and violence.

    Concentrating on work and projects and being prudent about security of Volunteers are not mutually exclusive goals.

    What evidence do you have that “… the great danger now is that Peace Corps is so eager to correct its errors that it has fixated in the opposite direction?”

    I find this whole discussion absolutely crazy. Have you all read the testimony of RPCVs before Congress? What part of their testimony are you dismissing? What provisions of the legislation are you is disagreement with? Be specific.

    BHillenbrand, I don’t know your gender, specifically, and I don’t know what is prompting the negative tone of some of these other comments. But I just wonder if some of you are willing to sacrifice the safety of female RPCVs in order to preserve a macho myth about the adventurous Volunteer braving all in the wilds of the underdeveloped world or to perpetuate a recruiting mirage of the enchanting Third World with all the anguish airbrushed out.

    There is no “Great Peace Corps Rape Witch-Hunt.” Rather, there are brave RPCV women who were victims of crime during their service and received awful treatment from Peace Corps. They have formed an advocacy group and have worked with diligence and intelligence to correct this problem so that other RPCVs, men and women, will not have to experience the same nightmares. In pursuit of legislation, they have told their stories to the public and to Congress. I do not think there is a finer example of what the Peace Corps is all about. They deserve our support. Please.

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