Peace Corps Volunteers Blamed, Punished for Reporting Sexual Assault?

CBS News, November 30, 2015

Nearly 7,000 Peace Corps currently serve in about 65 countries. Roughly one in five of them is sexually assaulted during that service, according to the results of a recent anonymous Peace Corps safety questionnaire, obtained exclusively by CBS News.

The report also shows that nearly half don’t report the assaults.

Pressure to change a culture of victim-blaming goes back years, but some survivors still claim they are blamed or punished. One volunteer wrote that in reporting an assault, “I made myself a target.”

“My thought was they’re going to rape me. These men are going to rape me,” said Danae Smith, who volunteered in the remote Dominican Republic town of Los Mosquitos for eight months.

In April, two men with machetes forced the 23-year-old off the village’s main road. Smith got away and reported the assault to the Peace Corps and within a week, the agency told her she was going home.

“They also told me that my attack had occurred because I had been walking in my site and that as a volunteer, it was my job to have been more proactive to prevent it from happening,” Smith said.

More than 500 volunteers have reported experiencing a sexual assault in a little over two years. CBS News spoke with nearly a dozen who questioned how their recent cases were handled. They told us they felt criticized and were threatened they would be fired.

Five years ago, the Peace Corps–a government agency–faced intense scrutiny over its response to sexual assaults. Congress passed a law and the agency’s director at the time vowed change.

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So far, the Peace Corps says it has instituted more than 30 reforms regarding sexual assault, and works to retrain employees who appear unsympathetic to trauma victims.

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