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Matthew Matthew Peake
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Aaron S. Williams Director, United States Peace Corps 1111 20th Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20526
Dear Director Williams, et al ‐ Please note that in addition to five of your senior people, the following people are copied by email or US Postal Service: US Congressional Representatives Nancy Pelosi (CA), Sam Farr (CA), Mazie Hirano (HI) and Barbara Lee (CA); US Senators Boxer (CA), Feinstein (CA), Akaka (HI), and Inouye (HI); Senator Chris Dodd, Chuck Ludlam, Jeff Fager (Senior Producer for 60 Minutes at CBS News), Steve Glauber (Producer, CBS News), and the good people at First Response are copied on this letter via email and/or US Postal Service.
Additionally, I have blind copied all of the people with whom I corresponded during my time as a volunteer. I am encouraging them to read the attached Ludlam report, and to watch the attached 20/20 video report aired on January 14th 2011, and if they feel compelled, to contact their congressional representatives to demand action.
I am a 51 year‐old returned Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I am writing regarding your published* response to the 20/20 piece covering the murder of PCV Kate
Puzey and the rapes/sexual assaults of volunteers. I am specifically referring to this line in your response:
"Since their (the women in question on 20/20) service, Peace Corps has improved sexual assault prevention procedures and practices, and we will continue to be responsive to the victims of assault and provide comprehensive care."
I have followed the 20/20 piece with great interest and am very concerned about the well‐being of Peace Corps and their volunteers, having received firsthand the training and prevention measures provided by the organization.
I completely agree with the first part of your statement above. I know Peace Corps heavily emphasizes prevention procedures and practices during service. I experienced the great job Peace Corps does to inform and prepare volunteers for the risks associated with service.
What I take issue with, what 20/20 so clearly illuminated, and what demands to be addressed by the organization that you lead, is the second part of this statement which says "we will continue to be responsive to the victims of assault and provide comprehensive care". Consider the tragedy of the young female PCV I met while in Washington DC, who witnessed the murder of a fellow PCV in Lesotho. The official response to her ordeal was not only incompetent, but heartless, as well. This young woman expressed the exact sentiment as the rape/sexual assault victims in the
20/20 report: "Every time I talk to someone at PC HQ they make me feel like I've done something wrong".
This from a 23 year old woman who witnessed the murder of her friend and narrowly escaped being shot herself.
What the 20/20 report unearthed is a systemically flawed agency that demands repair. 20/20 reports that there have been over 1000 rapes and/or sexual assaults of PCV's in the last decade. This despite Peace Corps prevention programs. That equates to a 1 in 24 (4.16%) chance a young woman will be assaulted during her 2 years of service, compared to roughly 1 in 300 for the US population at large. For more perspective on this alarming rate, consider this: In the last decade it was more likely a female PCV was sexually assaulted or raped (4.16%) than it was for a US soldier serving during the Iraq war (2003‐2009) to be killed (0.28%) or wounded (2.0%) in action. As long as Peace Corps continues to place young women alone in 3rd world countries, there are going to be sexual assaults. It stands to reason then that if you are going to continue your programs as they exist today Peace Corps should have in place a transparent, painstaking, and world‐class response program for PCV's evacuated to Washington DC for any reason, but especially for the victims of assault.
You currently do not have such a response program in place (http://firstresponseaction.blogspot.com/2011/01/peace‐corps‐response‐to‐abc‐news‐2020.html). That said, the bigger question begging to be asked, and answered, is this: Why does the Peace Corps continue to place young women alone in 3rd world countries when faced with these overwhelming assault statistics?
How exactly does Peace Corps justify the kind of risk that is systematically taken with other people's lives? It is bad enough that these young women are placed in harm's way with astonishing regularity. However, the problem is compounded exponentially when these victims are treated in the manner evidently deemed acceptable by your organization, as outlined by 20/20. This marginalization must stop.
I wish to provide a personal example that speaks to the lack of support from PC HQ. While the circumstances of my story are different from (and pale in comparison to) the expose in 20/20, my experience in Washington DC demonstrates clearly what was uncovered in that report, and speaks directly to the problem: the ineffective, frequently absent, and at times evasive response by PC headquarters.
On October 1, 2010 I was suddenly and inexplicably evacuated out of my country of service. For the first 14 days I was in Washington I met with no less than eleven (11) Peace Corps staff members and not one of them knew who evacuated me or why. One of the people I met with was the Director of Medical Services ‐ I incorrectly assumed he would be able to tell me why I was evacuated. Even he could not provide an explanation.
Finally on Oct. 14th I learned the Peace Corps Associate Director of Volunteer Services made a decision, evidently in a vacuum and for no apparent reason, to medevac me, without consulting or informing anyone else at the senior staff level. Subsequently, I was told by each member of your senior staff copied on this letter that Peace Corps had made an error in my case. I was also told Peace Corps would attempt to rectify this error by, in the words of Inspector General Buller, "making this right." I was specifically told that Peace Corps would work diligently to find a productive role for me somewhere in the organization. I was told I would be consulted and kept in the loop during this process to find an appropriate solution to the Peace Corps' mishandling of my case.
Then, nothing, I repeat, nothing happened. I repeatedly requested correspondence from various staff, but received no replies until I was notified on December 21st by email that I had been discharged from the Peace Corps. To this day, I have not received an adequate explanation for this decision and there appears to be no protocol in place to prevent such an error from occurring again. As it turns out, my experience merely scratches the surface of a much deeper problem.
One of the most powerful moments in the 20/20 piece was the assertion by the PCV Adriana (who was raped during her service) that she would "never, ever" allow her daughters to join the Peace Corps. I have two grown daughters who were completely supportive of my decision to change my life and join your organization. As it stands today, I could never in good conscience advise them ‐ or anyone for that matter ‐ to volunteer for service in your organization. It saddens me to write this. I, like many others, bought into the notion that I could make a difference. I was well prepared to face the hardships of serving overseas. But I was ill‐prepared to face the consistent stone‐walling and incompetence I faced (and continue to face) in dealing with many of the Peace Corps employees and appointees, both overseas and in Washington DC. I have since learned that Peace Corps has the highest percentage of political appointees of any agency in Washington; perhaps its failings are not entirely surprising.
In my conversation with Deputy Director Hessler‐Radelet, she indicated that Peace Corps is in the midst of an agency‐wide review. Given the alarming assault statistics, and the unusually high 35% early termination rate across the entire volunteer population, I applaud the efforts to closely examine the role of the volunteer in this, the 50th Anniversary year of Peace Corps. I sincerely hope that one conclusion you reach is that placing young women alone in 3rd world countries is not a condition of providing service or aid. There are many other successful aid models operating in the world today that do not subject their charges to the risks Peace Corps volunteers currently face. I, for one, still believe that Peace Corps can be America's Best Idea. In all organizations for which I have worked, it is said that leadership must come from the top and that our leaders must be accountable for the organizations that they lead. It is my profound wish that you will lead Peace Corps into a more responsible model, with a cohesive support structure so the women and men who make the deep commitment to service, can do so proudly, without unnecessary risk. As Peace Corps asks people all over the country, I ask you Director Williams: "Life is calling. How far will you go?"
Thank you for your consideration.
Matthew Peake PCV Fiji 2010 (202) 320‐2258
- 20/20 Report: http://abc.go.com/watch/2020‐/SH559026/VD55106741/2020‐114‐scandalinside‐the‐peace‐corps
- Ludlam Report: http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Reform_Plan_Ludlam_Hirschoff
- Director Williams published his response on the Peace Corps