ABC News 20/20 Focus is on sexual assault, rape and Kate Puzey, all about 'life' in the Peace Corps!

This comes to me from Casey Frazee of First Response Action advocates for a stronger Peace Corps response for Volunteers who are survivors or victims of physical and sexual violence. They envision a Peace Corps with policies that reflect best practices in all areas of training, prevention and response. For more information email firstresponseaction@gmail.com

ABC News has been working on several news pieces related to Peace Corps incidents of sexual assault, rape and Kate Puzey, the Volunteer who was murdered in 2009.  The show is scheduled to air next Friday 1/14 on 20/20 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.  They will also have companion pieces posted on their website, which you can check out here: http://abcnews.go.com/2020.  Coalition members and First Response Action supporters participated in interviews with ABC, which will be part of the show next week.  None of the Coalition members have seen the finished piece, so we welcome your feedback after the airing.

Casey Frazee was a PCV in South Africa in the Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Program. Prior to Peace Corps, Casey worked in agency public relations and then non-profit development. Currently, she is now the Girls Programs Coordinator for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati where she works with youth on programs such as pregnancy and STD prevention, financial literacy, media literacy, managing stress and substance abuse prevention.

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  • I just watched the Peace Corps segment on 20/20, and I was — and still am — deeply saddened by it. I am upset, of course, that these young women were tragically murdered or sexually assaulted during their Peace Corps service. At the same time, I’m saddened to think of the harm a sensational program like this one might do. Those of us who had positive experiences serving in the Peace Corps — not perfect, but positive — should let our voices be heard too. The Peace Corps is one of the best things the U.S. has to offer.

  • Your comment about ‘positive experiences’ is well documented in a new book coming out next month: ‘Voices from the Peace Corps’ by Angene and Jack Wilson. The book examines the experiences of dozens of volunteers from all five decades serving in many different countries. The main conclusion I drew from reading it before publication is that Peace Corps service has been a positive, life-changing event for virtually all who have served. Not everyone, but most, by far. My review of the book will appear here shortly.

  • I am saddened by the reports of the horrific experiences of the young women in the story. I am sorry to hear that their problems were not dealt with in a positive way, so that the end result was so terrible. It is always hard to deal with stories like this when you are talking about a program that has been around for several years and relies on a variety of personalities both as volunteers and those in charge. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire in the 70’s and then lived in Cameroon & Burkina Faso in the 80’s, Madagascar in the 90’s and Kenya in 2005. During those times I have known several Peace Corps volunteers and directors and to my knowledge the people in charge were sympathetic, understanding and responsible. I hope that people do not decide that the whole program is invalid, as there are still many good people doing good things for better world understanding.

  • These responses remind me of what I was told by the school secretary at our now adult son’s Catholic elementary school. We were shocked to read in the paper that the parish school had harbored a pedophile while our son was in attendance. The secretary, a friend, told me not to worrry, that the pedophile only went after the older boys and our son had been too young to attract the attention of the pedophile. As if we should dismiss the abuse because our family was not personally hurt. As if we could redraw the circle around our community and simply exclude those who had been victims, so we would not be troubled by their pain. As if we are not all responsible for the welfare of each other.

    The 20/20 segement was not about “stories.” It was about CRIMES.
    The measure of our concern should not be whether we feel bad, but how the victims and their familes feel.

  • After reviewing all three episodes of the ABC 20/20 Peace Corps reports, I correct previous information. Episode 2, “Peace Corps worked to keep Scandal Quiet,” 23 PCV’s have been murdered ( not 260) in 50 years.

    BTW, ABC took advantage of Carrie Rasslet in her interview, as I could feel her pain and geniune apology , the reporter “put her down” by saying that’s all you can say, you are sorry! ABC lit the interview to their advantage and positioned her that she had to lean forward. Bad press advance and I also fault Aaaron Williams for puting Carrie, rhe Deputy, “out to hang.” Bad press relations at PC despite making a good commericial for the 50th.

  • I’m a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer from Cameroon, West Africa. While I definitely agree that there has been great deal of mismanagement from the Peace Corps, I am also very saddened by the negative image the 20/20 report has portrayed. Peace Corps stands for so much more. Every organization makes mistakes and what has happened is inexcusable. But I hope people will remember at all the positive aspects of the Peace Corps. I once was also a major critic of the organization, but now I’m a big advocate. Here’s why: http://www.asianpolyglot.com/2011/01/reaction-to-abc-2020-peace-corps-report/

  • I would suggest that a program that has placed over 200,000 Americans in countries with relatively high crime rates, e.g South Africa, Ethiopia, Turkey, Mexico, Panama, and Ukraine, and I know, since i have lived in all of these, who have suffered a relatively low level of crime directed toward them, has done a credible job of protecting its people.

  • I would rather defend people than institutions. I always thought that Peace Corps should stand or fall on its own merits. I could care less about the agency’s image.

    I was not able to watch the whole segment. Was I correct that the family received a box which was shipped to them and that box contained the body of Katy Puzey or was it just her personal effects? I may have misunderstood that particular report and would really appreciate any clarification.

    My personal experience and the research I did on the kidnapping of Richard Starr is that when a Volunteer is sick, or dead, or kidnapped, they lose their utilitarian value to Peace Corps/Washington. The response is to turn the situaion over to some other agency, as quickly as possible.

  • I am one of the women who was interviewed for the 20/20 panel. I was sexually assaulted in South Africa in 2009. I was so upset to find out in-country that Peace Corps has no policy or formal protocol on how to manage sexual assault that I started a mission to advocate to them to improve this. That mission is First Response Action.

    Of course, media sensationalizes things and I am disappointed that ABC didn’t include all of the GOOD things that we panelists had to say about Peace Corps. They also didn’t mention that RPCVs are advocating to Peace Corps to make positive change. We are a pro-Peace Corps mission. We want to ensure that, as much as possible, ALL Volunteers have good stories. Crimes cannot always be prevented, but they can certainly be handled better by Peace Corps.

    Joey – thanks for getting it. I appreciate your comments. We survivors are the human cost of prior inadequate policy. So we are trying to fix it for future volunteers.

    You can check out our website at http://www.firstresponseaction.org or email me at firstresponseaction@gmail.com.

    Casey

  • I was a peace corps volunteer in Kazakhstan form 2002-2004

    I gotta say. I am not upset about this 20/20 segment. I am pissed of about it. it is sensational and biased “journalism.”

    I usually don’t get riled up this much, but this pissed me off so much so that I made a website about it.

    http://www.peacecorps.us

  • @Mike

    “methinks this gentleman protestest too much.” Why are you so angry?

    I bet that if an employee of ABC News was attacked in an IHOP parking lot…the mythical incident you cited, that ABC would be all over it. If the parking lot were not well lighted with adequate security or if anyone attempted to blame the victim, I just bet that ABC would publicize it. It is called “protecting your own.”

    This does give me an opportunity to reflect on my own service, which was at times, in dangerous circumstances. However, after reading your website/blog, I was reminded of how very fortunate I was to have served with a great bunch of male Volunteers. They were like big brothers – ate all our food, teased us, but were gentlemen who were always supportive and looking out for us.
    And, so belatedly, to all the male RPCVs from Colombia…particularly Southern Colombia in the early 60s. Mil gracias.

  • Joey,

    I don’t think ABC News would blame themselves if one of their own was mugged at an IHOP, which is what they are doing the Peace Corps.
    I too had a difficult but wonderful experience, and I am very concerned that that horribly misleading 20/20 segment might discourage people from applying. Whether or not to join the peace corps is one of the most important decisions in a person’s life, it should guided by accurate information, not the 2000 pound gorilla of ABC News spewing out their venom.
    Unfortunately, because of the way search engines work unless ABC News removes or edits that segment it will be one of the first things that a perspective volunteer sees on-line when researching the Peace Corps. Considering the biased anti- Peace Corps garbage that the presented though out the segment, and that the closing line of one of the series is from a returned Peace Corps volunteer vowing to not let her kids join the Peace Corps, I think this can be hugely misleading to the perspective volunteer.
    I think those will a lager soap box need to exercise responsibility and professional ethnics. Something that ABC News is not doing.

  • Mike,
    i do not doubt your sincerity, but you are not well informed on the issue of Volunteer safety. I am glad that you were not subject to violence during your service. But, you are taking your experience as the norm and absolutely discounting what these women RPCVs have to say. I am going to urge you to become informed. Let me cite three difference sources:

    1) Lawrence F. Lihosit’s recently published excellent almannac, “Peace Corps Chronology.” Lihosit became alarmed as he compiled statistics for his book with the fact that violence against Volunteers had been increasing since 1992. He quotes on page 54, testimony before Congress by the editor of the Dayton Daily News (which had done a series on the violence against Peace Corps Volunteers.) To paraphrase the editor, and also the father of Walter J. Poirer, a Volunteer missing in Bolivia from 2000 and still unaccounted for, Peace Corps was more concerned about protecting its image than protecting its Volunteers.

    2) For an extensive review of the issue, Congressional action and Peace Corps response, see: peacecorpsonline and key in the Search PCOL box “Safety and Security.”

    3) Finally, steps were taken in 2003 and 2004 to enhance the security of serving Volunteers. BUT, the budget cuts which came in 2006 forward impacted overseas staffing. Read: Peace Corps 2010 “AComprehensive Agency Assessment. Pages 80 forward address this issue.

    http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/PC

    Rape and murder are crimes. We must do everything possible to prevent them.

  • Joey,

    I appreciate what you are saying. These are crimes. Crimes are bad. I would like bad stuff to go away as well.

    I have read several of these studies. I have never been a fan of funding driven research (unfortunately most research these days) there is no accounting for differences in recording and classification methods, nor is there controls for greater transparency on behalf of the Peace Corps or for a lot of other variables including controlling for the uniform crime statistics in the host country. It is fashionable to extract numbers from biased samples and to report them as gospel, numbers are irrefutable after all. The problem is that the people that gather them often have funding driven agendas and a distinct lack of ethical principles … people like ABC News 20/20.

    I had a safe experience, but if I had gotten mugged I would not blame the Peace Corps. Especially if I was in an area of the city where I knew it was dangerous to be in. Common sense there, just as it is here. If you are not comfortable being there, don’t be there. I know of plenty volunteers that returned to the US early or switched locations within the country where they served (for various reasons), that part of the 20/20 program is not representative of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. .

    How is the Peace Corps responsible for your personal poor judgment?

    I am sorry for what happened to the volunteers who were assaulted, and I hope that whoever did it is brought to justice in accordance with local laws. And I applaud the Peace Corps for providing support and guidance with, as you mentioned, such a restricted budget. I am all for improving and expanding the Peace Corps, but airing made-up sensational garbage such as that is poor and misleading journalism.

    I just hope that that offensive and biased 20/20 segment doesn’t discourage anyone form joining the Peace Corps.

    I have a feeling I am going to leave this site up for a while http://peacecorps.us

    I hope that other returned and serving volunteers will let them selves be heard on this issue.

  • Joey,

    I appreciate what you are saying. These are crimes. Crimes are bad. I would like bad stuff to go away as well.

    I have read several of these studies. I have never been a fan of funding driven research (unfortunately most research these days) there is no accounting for differences in recording and classification methods, nor is there controls for greater transparency on behalf of the Peace Corps or for a lot of other variables including controlling for the uniform crime statistics in the host country. It is fashionable to extract numbers from biased samples and to report them as gospel, numbers are irrefutable after all. The problem is that the people that gather them often have funding driven agendas and a distinct lack of ethical principles … people like ABC News 20/20.

    I had a safe experience, but if I had gotten mugged I would not blame the Peace Corps. Especially if I was in an area of the city where I knew it was dangerous to be in. Common sense there, just as it is here. If you are not comfortable being there, don’t be there. I know of plenty volunteers that returned to the US early or switched locations within the country where they served (for various reasons), that part of the 20/20 program is not representative of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. .

    How is the Peace Corps responsible for your personal poor judgment?

    I am sorry for what happened to the volunteers who were assaulted, and I hope that whoever did it is brought to justice in accordance with local laws. And I applaud the Peace Corps for providing support and guidance with, as you mentioned, such a restricted budget. I am all for improving and expanding the Peace Corps, but airing made-up sensational garbage such as that is poor and misleading journalism.

    I just hope that that offensive and biased 20/20 segment doesn’t discourage anyone form joining the Peace Corps.

    I have a feeling I am going to leave this site up for a while http://peacecorps.us

    I hope that other returned and serving volunteers will let them selves be heard on this issue.

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