The Peace Corps is one of the government and our country’s most highly revered agencies. The volunteer program provides technical assistance, an understanding of U.S. culture to people outside the U.S., and helps Americans to understand foreign cultures all while doing work related to social and economic development. Volunteers usually serve for two years, after they have received a college degree.
In March, Her Campus spoke to Peace Corps applicants, including Danielle Rhodes from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who said at the time:
“What an excellent learning experience! I’ll go enthusiastically to wherever they need me. If it all goes to hell, the worst experiences make the best stories.”
But, what should be a positive learning experience for the volunteers (not including Ms. Rhodes) has turned to a nightmare, as Peace Corps members who were raped while serving overseas have been coming forward to lawmakers recently to make formal complaints about the agency.
Three volunteers, along with a mother of a volunteer who was murdered in Benin, spoke to Congress and claim the 50-year-old agency did not train their workers who to deal with and avoid violent attacks while serving and in turn, after these crimes were committed, directors were insensitive and unhelpful.
According to figures from the Peace Corps, volunteers reported 1,000+ sexual assaults from 2000-2009. And the rate at which the volunteers are raped and are victims of burglary is higher than every nation reported, according to comparative crime stats from the UN.
The attacks were not solely done by the people who the volunteers were serving. One woman, Carol Marie Clark, who joined the Peace Corps at the age of 22 in 1984 was raped and impregnated by her program’s director.
“I want those women to be treated with compassion and respect,” Clark demanded. “They should be heard, supported and healed, not blamed, reprimanded or ignored.”
“Your testimony will change the way business is being done in the Peace Corps,” Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told a former volunteer.
Another victim, Jessica Smochek, was groped and harassed while serving in Bangladesh. After she was refused transfer to a safer village she was raped by a group of men at knifepoint.
The Peace Corps medical officer who examined her following the rape took no evidence. And she was warned not to tell anyone what had happened to her. She was flown back to the States — but had to lie about why — and spoke to a counselor who made her list things she had done wrong in the situation, trying to make her feel responsible about the rape.
While the witnesses spoke to a Congress hungry for budget cuts, they were not interested in seeing their former employer have their funding stopped.
Already one positive change has come from these women stepping forward. A Peace Corps video in which rape victims describe what they did wrong to bring on the sexual assault will be replaced.
Learn more about What it’s like to join the Peace Corps!
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