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Safety at risk for Peace Corps volunteers
Audit finds lax security measures
More than 30 Peace Corps volunteers were raped or sexually assaulted last year while hundreds of others were attacked, robbed, burglarized or threatened, bolstering criticism that the agency has failed to provide “a consistent and complete safety and security program.”
In a little-noticed safety and security audit released in April, the Peace Corps‘ office of inspector general said volunteers were placed “at greater risk because the agency did not ensure that posts fully implemented required safety and security policies.” It also said the Peace Corps‘ security program “lacked essential elements.”
Investigative memos obtained by The Washington Times through an open records request detail some of the crimes that were the subject of the audit, showing a string of violence, theft and other illegal activities around the world in recent years involving Peace Corps volunteers as both perpetrators and victims.
The memos detailed 29 of the more than 40 cases that were closed last year by the inspector general’s investigators. Of those 29 cases, 16 involved allegations of rape or sexual assault, two involved accidental death, one involved drug smuggling, two involved aggravated assaults, seven involved either robbery, theft or embezzlement, and one involved the misuse of government funds.
Perhaps the most alarming threat described in the audit and the memos is the one posed to women working in countries where cultural attitudes differ from Western values. More than a third of the inspector general’s office investigations closed last year dealt with rape or sexual assault in countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Mongolia.
In a 2007 case in Mongolia, a female volunteer opened her apartment door for a group of boys who forced alcohol on her and gang-raped her.
The investigative memo said the case also involved a robbery at knife point, but was complicated by the victim’s acknowledgment that she once supplied her attackers with money to buy alcohol - a misdemeanor offense because the attackers were younger than 18.
Information released by the agency shows that even when a complaint triggers an investigation of a violent incident involving a Peace Corps employee or volunteer, referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution are extremely rare, with overseas court actions only slightly more frequent.
One case involved a woman who was raped in Bolivia in 2005 by a man she knew. According to the memos, the woman feared she would be arrested on false allegations and trumped-up charges in a corrupt legal system, so she declined to prosecute, dropped her complaint and left the country.
A 2008 rape in Tbilisi, Georgia, was dropped when the victim declined to testify out of fear for her safety, the memos said.
The memos also included examples of cases that are resolved in the courts. A 2006 rape in Mauritania of a Peace Corps volunteer who was attacked while hitchhiking led to a conviction and two-year jail sentence.
The audit pointing out the shortcomings of the Peace Corps security program was a follow-up to an item in the agency’s semiannual report to Congress in September that also documented investigations into “allegations of fraud, bribery and other misconduct committed by Peace Corps employees, contractors and volunteers.”
With President Obama’s call to service resulting in more volunteers, the Peace Corps acknowledged that it is challenged to support the volunteers it already has, but pointed to improvements.
“We are continually looking at ways to improve the safety of volunteers serving overseas,” said Edward Hobson, the agency’s associate director for safety and security, who emphasized an overall decrease in serious crime last year. “We are following through on the recommendations made by the inspector general in an effort to further strengthen our program.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jeffrey Anderson is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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