Kate Puzey Protection Act now Law

Yesterday the U.S. Congress signed a bill into law to protect PCVs, women Volunteers especially. The bill protects whistleblowers, train volunteers on how to avoid attacks, and improve the treatment of sexual assault victims. It passed the House by unanimous consent.  It is called The Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011–named after Kate Puzey who was murdered in Benin in 2009. It had already passed the Senate by unanimous consent in September.

“We’re so gratified, and actually amazed, that it’s come to fruition, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely,” Puzey’s mother told ABC News. “And if, God forbid, something happens, then they will have the support they need, which is what our family did not get.” The legislation was created after dozens of women who served in the Peace Corps accused the agency of not doing enough to help them after they were sexually assaulted. You might have seen it all played out on ABC 20/20 earlier this year.

The group of RPCV women who pushed for such a bill should get credit for their efforts, but also, in all fairness, the current administration is not to be blamed for what happened in years past under other Peace Corps administrations.

Every generation of PCVs has its problems. Gays and Lesbians were routinely kicked out of the agency in the Sixties. Volunteers caught smoking grass were sent home by overseas Staff without a second thought, (and they might still be!). But women PCVs are still, and always, will be at risk.

In the early years of the agency, in Ethiopia, for example, women were kept out of rural assignments unless they were married. But it was women Volunteers in Ethiopia, however, who demanded that they, too, be assigned to small towns and rural villages. And they have served well and safely for nearly fifty years.

We had back in the ’60s and ’70 roughly 30 percent women in the Peace Corps. The number of women serving in the agency today is closer to 65 percent. Keeping all of these women safe is no easy task. 

The Puzey Act, while welcomed and needed, will not protect women. Keeping safe is up to the individual PCV and their overseas Staff, not HQ/DC or Congress! Congress and HQ can write rules and regulations but it is the CD in-country who sets the tone. Trainees arriving in-country have no idea what to expect or how to behave; it is up to the Staff to make them well aware that they are not in Kansas any longer.

What the Puzey Act will do, what it can only do, is make sure, in a legal way, that the Staff,  from those in-country to those back home, respond in a humane and rational way to their needs.

One would think the Peace Corps doesn’t need a special Act to make sure the Staff is doing right by Volunteers, but as many of us have wondered over the years: ‘How did that person ever get hired by the Peace Corps?


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  • The law does direct CDs to make sure that all Volunteers (including
    trainees) have current and valid information about crime in potential sites. Volunteers may decline assignment to an area with a high crime rate. If a Volunteer informs the CD that she or he feels threatened or has reason to believe that there is danger in the site, the CD is directed to remove the Volunteer from that site. The law also provides whistle blower protection to Volunteers. The CD is not free to disregard these legal mandates at his or her discretion.

  • John’s point is well taken: it’s up to the individual PCV to keep him or herself safe. And while one would think that it is common sense that Peace Corps staff should support PCVs who do have security problems, a law making the duties of staff very clear might be helpful.

    Yet all the law will do, I fear, is increase bureaucratic tendencies of PC staff and foster excessive caution when handing out assignments. Already PC staff is imbued with fear of making a mistake. Now they will worry about breaking the law.

    Perhaps rather than legislation Congress might have insisted that all PC staff and PC trainees read Heather Andersen’s new book: “I never intended to be brave: a woman’s bicycle journey through Southern Africa.” Her six month post-service odyssey would NEVER had been approved by any PC staffer, no doubt. And while journey was not all sweetness and light, it was–as are all Peace Corps assignments–worth the risk, discomfort and danger.

  • Heather Andersen made her journey AFTER she completed her service. She was no longer a serving Volunteer.

    Those who crave danger should join the military where they will be armed.

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