Thanks to a ‘Heads Up’ from our blogger Joanne Roll (Colombia 1963-65) who found this comment from Kellie Greene who was dismissed by the Peace Corps last April. It appeared on First Response Actions’ Faceobook.
Kellie Greene for Victim’s Rights
Hello and welcome! I am Kellie Greene. I was the Director of the Peace Corps’ Office of Victim Advocacy (OVA) until April 29, 2015, when Peace Corps essentially removed me from my position. Chances are you are here because you saw or read in the news that I filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) against the Peace Corps. It’s true. I have. You can find the articles under “In the News”.
Before I continue, I need to inform you of two things. First, the content on this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. Second, this post is not a complete representation of all the disclosures I have made in the whistleblower complaints. To do so would make this post entirely too long.
I was selected to serve as the Peace Corps’ first Victim Advocate in May 2011. Having spent nearly half my life working in victim advocacy, I was excited for the opportunity to use my professional knowledge and skills to support an agency with such a rich history and legacy. I was especially grateful for the opportunity to serve the individuals that make up the Peace Corps – the Volunteers. Throughout my time at the Peace Corps I never once lost site of how or why my position and office came to be – through the courage of Volunteers – specifically, First Response Action and Kate Puzey.
Kate Puzey was a Volunteer in Benin. She had blown the whistle on a colleague’s sexual assault of young girls in the local school where she taught. She was murdered only a couple days after she made her disclosure to Peace Corps. First Response Action is a group of Returned Volunteers who were sexually assaulted during their service and were re-victimized when the Peace Corps made them feel as if they were to blame for the crimes committed against them. Kate’s death and the tireless efforts of First Response Action led to the passage of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011.
When I first started at the Peace Corps I was met with a great deal of resistance from staff. Fortunately, I had the support of former Director Williams who was fully committed to ensuring that the Peace Corps wholeheartedly complied with the Kate Puzey Act. However, in the years following his departure from the Agency, it became increasingly more difficult for me to advocate for Volunteers due to the victim blaming attitudes and behaviors that were allowed to continue, unaddressed by Agency leadership.
Recently, I came across a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer’s (RPCV) story in Invoke Magazine. Her experience with the Peace Corps following a rape she reported in 2004 is symbolic of far too many Volunteers I worked with during my time as a victim advocate for the Agency and why the Agency must hold staff accountable for victim-blaming attitudes and behaviors. She wrote that:
* She experienced delays in receiving support services.
* Staff discouraged her from reporting to local law enforcement.
* Staff asked her if perhaps it was a cultural misunderstanding.
* Staff blamed her for “causing” the rape – for example, they questioned her on where she was, whether she had been drinking, what she had been wearing.
* Staff told her if she was still engaged in counseling after 45 days that Peace Corps would terminate her service.
What this RPCV described is already well known in the field of victim advocacy as “secondary victimization.” Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a highly respected researcher with over 20 years’ experience in the field of sexual violence, explains that secondary victimization is the “attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of social system’s personnel that victims experience as victim blaming and insensitive. It exacerbates their trauma, and it makes them feel like what they’re experiencing is a second rape.”
Sadly, five years following an ABC News investigation, the Peace Corps is still engaging in the same victim-blaming behaviors and attitudes that cause secondary victimization and years of needless suffering for the Volunteers. Without a mechanism to address accountability of these behaviors and attitudes, Volunteers will continue to be victims of the Peace Corps. This is why I filed the whistleblower complaint.
Without question, the Peace Corps has made progress in the four years since President Obama signed the Kate Puzey Act. Many Volunteers who reported being the victim of a sexual assault or other crime have received stellar responses. There are many staff throughout the Peace Corps who have embraced the new policies and procedures, and who have committed themselves to understanding the effects of victimization.
Yet, there still exists throughout the Peace Corps, and especially within the upper echelons of Peace Corps leadership, a vast misunderstanding of victimization and an unwillingness to confront the problem. Some Peace Corps staff still question if the crime “actually” happened. Volunteers have reported to me that they were encouraged to make up stories and lie to their communities, families and friends. Some Country Directors and other staff monitor Volunteers’ social media sites to ensure that Volunteers remain silent about what happened to them. Some Country Directors still discourage Volunteers from reporting to law enforcement.
Yet, when I would inform Agency leadership of these instances (which is part of the victim advocate job description developed by the Peace Corps), the Agency was quick to deflect responsibility for the victimization back onto the Volunteer by dismissing or minimizing the complaints. In almost every instance when this occurred Agency leaders hastily offered up a multitude of excuses defending the Peace Corps staff. A couple of my colleagues summarized this quite well when they said on several occasions, “The Peace Corps has a tendency to manage incidents of crimes against Volunteers to the convenience of the agency”.
Sargent Shriver, the first Director of the Peace Corps, said, “The Peace Corps represents some, if not all, of the best virtues in this society. It stands for everything that America has ever stood for. It stands for everything we believe in and hope to achieve in the world.” The Peace Corps is missing an important opportunity to become a global role model for how to respond to and treat victims of violence, especially sexual assault. For the past four years, whenever the Peace Corps has been confronted with criticism, usually in the form of a Volunteer’s personal experience, I have witnessed the Agency respond with the same well worn platitudes: “The health and safety of Volunteers is the Agency’s highest priority,” “The Peace Corps has implemented over 30 new or enhanced policies to respond to sexual assault and crimes against Volunteers,” and “The Agency has undergone nothing short of a complete culture shift.” One has to ask that if those statements are true, then why have so many Volunteers continued to report that they have felt blamed or mistreated by the Peace Corps?
In 2010 the Peace Corps issued the “Peace Corps’ Commitment to Sexual Assault Victims”. Of the seven commitments, the third is support. The Peace Corps states “we will provide you with the support you need to aid in your recovery”. This has not been my experience. I have worked with many Volunteers who reported to me that they were told by staff they were “not fit for service” if they wished to engage in counseling beyond the 45-day medevac or six sessions if they remained in country. Returned Volunteers have called me, in tears and in complete frustration, because they are unable to access medical or mental health care following their service.
Peace Corps is completely capable of caring for its Volunteers. Leadership has just made the choice to use its resources elsewhere. Over the past two years, the Director’s office has nearly doubled in size. The Office of Volunteer Recruitment added more than 50 new positions. The Director has created Team Lead positions that report directly to her, thereby circumventing the authority of the directors and managers in the various offices throughout the Peace Corps (including myself, when I was the Director of OVA). Further, the persons in these Team Lead positions lack subject-matter expertise for the area in which they are assigned. To me, this clearly demonstrates Peace Corps’ misplaced priorities – it is willing to spend its resources on increasing the number of applicants and Volunteers in the field, but fails to ensure the Agency has the necessary resources to support those same Volunteers in a victim-centered manner when they are victims of violent crimes.
My diligence led to the Peace Corps stripping me of my duties and responsibilities in April 2015. They gave my duties to my then subordinate, who they felt was more “popular” with other Peace Corps staff, and less argumentative. In October, Peace Corps informed me they intended to fire me, and they provided me with a memorandum of all their reasons why. Most of their reasons directly related to all the times I urged the Agency to comply with the Kate Puzey Act (and other laws as well). One example stood out: Peace Corps felt that when I disagreed with their actions, I was bringing down the morale of other staff. Of course, I did voice my disagreement when I saw the Agency making decisions that were counter to the Kate Puzey Act or the wellbeing of a Volunteer. Of course, this did not make me popular with Peace Corps staff who are resistant to adopting a victim-centered approach for the Agency. However, what mattered to me as a victim advocate was that the Volunteers received the timely care, well within Peace Corps’ capabilities, that they wanted and needed to support their healing and recovery. Ultimately, the Peace Corps decided to suspend me without pay instead of firing me, but as of today, my future remains unclear.
Mahatma Gandhi has said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I reflected upon this statement frequently when trying to decide whether or not to file the whistleblower complaint. I want you to know that it was a very difficult decision for me, and that I did not do it to damage the Peace Corps. I filed with the OSC because, for me, the Peace Corps is only as great as how it treats ALL Volunteers (current, returned and future). And although the Peace Corps has attempted to silence me by removing me from my position, I believe that I can still serve you – the Peace Corps Volunteers.
I believe that by working together we can transform the Peace Corps into a stronger organization that is more responsive to the individuals who ARE the Peace Corps – the Volunteers. I can’t do this alone. It’s going to be your stories and your voices that once again awakens a complacent Peace Corps and forges the reform necessary to ensure that all Volunteers are provided with the resources for a healthy and safe service, including post service, in the wake of a victimization. I need your help to show the Peace Corps that they cannot simply pay lip service to its obligations under the Kate Puzey Act, or surely the secondary victimization of Volunteers and Returned Volunteers will continue.