The Basic Problems with Sexual Assaults and How to Solve as Least One of Them

The Peace Corps has two basic problems with the issue of sexual assaults: 1) the attacks themselves; 2) the response from the agency.

As for #1 the agency can help here by making Trainees and PCVs vividly aware of where they are in the world, and how to behave to protect themselves. But lets get real. This morning (Sunday) I picked up the New York Times and read where the I.M.F. Chief was arrested and accused of a sex attack at a midtown Manhattan hotel. He was pulled off an Air France first-class seat by the Port Authority police and booked for an alleged attempted rape. He was accused by a chambermaid maid at the exclusive Sofitel Hotel (where his suite of rooms cost $3,000 a night) of sexually assaulting her twice. So, you don’t have to be on some back alley in the middle of a Third World country and be in danger.

But the issue that makes all PCVs, RPCVs, families and friends furious is # 2 and that is ‘what did the Peace Corps do about it, and how did they treat the PCV?’ Time and again, PCVs say that the staff didn’t, won’t, couldn’t support them after the attack, blaming the Volunteer for what had happened to her.

Now I have been a PCV, an APCD, and worked at PC/HQ and I have seen good and bad staff overseas and here at home. For most of the history of the agency the staff, in my opinion, has tried to do their best, but, nevertheless, I am getting emails from PCVs from every decade who have tales to tell about their Peace Corps staff, incidents that were not handled overseas.

I have constantly and continually argued and lobbied for a Peace Corps staff made up of  RPCVs. I want RPCVs running the Peace Corps, not political appointees, no ‘think tank’ experts who have never lived in the developing world but write papers about what is wrong in the Third World, no campaign worker who now wants a ‘real’ job and thinks being a CD in the Peace Corps ‘could be a lot of fun!

That said, not all, and not many, RPCVs would make great overseas staff. It takes a special combination of personality, additional overseas  experience, and instincts to direct PCVs in difficult, dangerous, and isolated assignments. It is a lot tougher being a PCV today than it was fifty year, and the demands and risks on PCVs–men and women–is much greater today than it was when I was a PCV and APCD in the ’60s. And the job of being a CD or APCD is a lot tougher. 

The Country Director  remains the most important position in the Peace Corps.  The Country Director is the key to the success of the Peace Corps in any given country, and in the House Hearings and the ‘new plans and policies’ to handle sexual assaults of the agency, I don’t see any hands go up about how the agency is now selecting overseas staff. It doesn’t seem to be addressed by PC/W. But maybe they think that it is already a given. But pick the right CD and while it won’t stop sexual assaults on PCVs, it will tell the Peace Corps Community that PCVs are in good hands.

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  • John: Amen about sloppy CD selection. As a PC evaluator I I went to eight projects and rated four CDs as subpar.One notoriously harassed a PCV Another of the four went on to a larger project and quickly failed. Another moved to a more stable, well-programmed project and he was okay. As an overseas deputy director I learned of a CD who was fired for an affair with a volunteer.I also knew of two CDs who went to the Washington senior staff despite profligate indiscretion overseas.Not a great record.

  • Jill,

    The difference between a principal and a CD is great. If teachers have to deal with a “difficult” principal, they have the support of their contract and usually a union. PCVs have neither.

    PCVs assume the identical legal position vis a vi the agency and its staff as the poor/disenfrachised in the Third World have vis a vi their country. Not good.

  • I cringed when I saw this at last on the national news, but am glad y’all have sparked a deeper conversation. The PC volunteer I worked with on site had been evac’ed from Yemen for this very reason. I have also volunteered in a center against sexual assault and have come to realize that it takes a certain power to stand against such treatment, and that power is not “granted” to “us” by any person or organization. This is a global social issue, not a Peace Corps issue. If the PC chooses to take it on and make exemplary changes, fab, more power to ’em.

  • Over the years, I saw the PC country director positions downgraded and then given to low lever political appointees. In the former, the Nixon Administration brought all of the higher graded country director and deputy director positions and gave most of them to ethnic organization heads as a pay off for their “ethnic” mobilisation stategy. This had the effect of downgrading the positions of support staff from trainers to desk officers.

    The latter resulted from country director positions having to be cleared by the White House in subsequent administrations. For example, I worked with an RPCV from CAE, who applied for the director position for that country. HIs name was submitted to the WH for clearance during the Reagan Administration. His appointment was declined with the WH providing a list of persons who had contributed $100 or more to the Reagan campaign and has expressed an interest in a diplomatic posting and the suggestion that a suitable candidate could be gotten from this list. The PC director, Lorette Rupey, waited a number of months and resubmitted the RPCV from CAE for the position. Apparently, the WH was not paying attention and approved the candidate!

    Since I left government five years ago, I wonder if this political process, with a small “p” has ended.

  • David, You have some very important historical information. I do have two questions:

    I don’t know what this means:
    ” …In the former, the Nixon Administration brought all of the higher graded country director and deputy director positions and gave most of them to ethnic organization heads as a pay off for their “ethnic” mobilisation stategy. This had the effect of downgrading the positions of support staff from trainers to desk officers.”

    I don’t understand how support staff went from trainers to desk officers.
    I thought that late in the 60s and by the early 70s, all training was being done in-country and that the HCN staff numbers were being increased. I also thought that sometime during the 80s, the Country Director positions were removed from the list of political appointed positions and no longer required WH or Congressional approval.
    What do you know about that?

    I(And I also don’t know what CAE stands for)

    Thank you so much. This is important information..

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