Steven Saum posted an articleA statement from the Chair of the Board of Directors of National Peace Corps Association. see more
An in-depth work of investigative journalism has shone light on a horrific problem. There are steps we can take now. A statement from the Chair of the Board of Directors of National Peace Corps Association.
By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez
Today USA Today published an in-depth investigative piece chronicling the experiences of multiple women who have been victims of sexual assault while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. Their stories are devastating. And the statistics cited in the article about the prevalence of sexual assault are profoundly disturbing.
We owe it to these women to read their stories — and to truly hear what they are saying. Those of us who have been victims of sexual assault know firsthand that it takes immense courage to come forward, especially given how the initial reports of these women were handled. And let us be unequivocal: There must be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct within the ranks of Peace Corps staff.
We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.
Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn issued a statement today outlining how the agency is addressing these very serious issues. All of the incidents chronicled in the story have been referred to the Peace Corps Inspector General for investigation. And Spahn has made sure that returned Volunteers know they can reach out directly to the Inspector General, as well as to the agency.
We underscore that call throughout the Peace Corps community: We must ensure your voices are heard. And on behalf of myself, the board and staff at National Peace Corps Association, we want you to know that you can reach out to us as well. We are here to listen — and to support you.
Following the Letter of the Law
Just a few weeks ago, at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, former Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recounted once again how, while she served as a Volunteer in Western Samoa in the 1980s, she was a victim of repeated sexual assault by a Peace Corps staff member. And again, she recounted how the Peace Corps failed to take action.
Since that time we know that progress has been made. The Kate Puzey Act led to the establishment of a sexual assault advisory council in 2013. The Sam Farr/Nick Castle Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act was passed in 2018 and includes strengthened criteria for hiring overseas doctors and medical support staff and lays down a number of critical requirements:
- evaluation of all medical staff for compliance to all relevant policies and guidelines
- accessible health and safety information for Peace Corps applicants before they are assigned to a particular country
- designated staff at each post to serve victims of sexual assault
- authority for the Sexual Assault Advisory Council to conduct case reviews.
In this moment, when there are no Volunteers in the field, it provides an opportunity and a responsibility for Peace Corps to conduct a thorough review of the Farr/Castle law and other previously passed legislation to ensure full compliance in all aspects. We are very concerned that this is not the case at this time.
The statement issued today by the Peace Corps notes that a new Security Incident Management System is being deployed. We know from conversations with the agency that, in lay terms, this will integrate systems for reporting and tracking sexual assaults and other crimes. That is part of the solution. A broader effort on implementing better tech-driven systems to serve Volunteers and communities is also underway while there are no Volunteers in the field. But, again, this is only part of the solution.
We Must Protect Whistleblowers
What is also part of the solution: legislation introduced to the House of Representatives on March 1 — H.R. 1456 — which provides whistleblower protection for Volunteers. As noted by bill sponsor John Garamendi (D-CA), the bill “Extends whistleblower and anti-retaliatory protections that currently apply to Peace Corps contractors to Peace Corps Volunteers, including protections against reprisals by any Peace Corps employee, Volunteer supervisor, or outside contractor.” This legislation also directs the Peace Corps and U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to update plans and protocols for Peace Corps Volunteer security support and protection in foreign countries.
As Emma Tremblay, one of the women who shares her heartbreaking story in the USA Today piece notes, passing this legislation is one way to show support for her and other Volunteers.
We know that beyond this legislation much work remains to be done. And we know that it is our responsibility as engaged members of the Peace Corps community to ensure that efforts continue. After all, it is in the mission of National Peace Corps Association to ensure that Peace Corps is the best that it can be. An agency where sexual assault metastasized in recent years has tremendous work to do.
It shouldn’t escape notice that April is sexual assault awareness month. This is not something that we should think about in the abstract. Every victim of an assault — like the women who share their stories in this article — is a person whose life has been deeply harmed.
It should not escape notice that only this week Kathy Buller, Peace Corps Inspector General — and executive chair for the Council of the Inspector General on Integrity and Efficiency’s legislation committee — was testifying before Congress regarding the importance of the independence and reinforcement of the work by inspectors general throughout the government.
And it absolutely should not escape notice that, while this particular USA Today piece focuses on the stories of women who are white, Peace Corps and others must ensure that victims who are people of color receive the full support throughout their service and afterward. Racial justice and equity demand it.
Let’s take to heart what legal scholar Catharine MacKinnnon wrote in The Atlantic two years ago, reflecting on the rise of the #MeToo movement: “Conceive a revolution without violence against domination and aggression. Envision a moment of truth and a movement of transformation for the sexually violated toward a more equal, therefore a more peaceful and just, world.”
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08.
Braeden Waddell posted an articleParents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Volunteer, advocate for a better Peace Corps. see more
The parents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, trace how they began their ongoing work to ensure that Peace Corps lives up to the ideals that their son believed in.
By Sue and Dave Castle
Photo: Dave and Sue Castle flanking Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
Sue and I never thought of becoming involved in politics or advocacy until our son Nick died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China on February 7, 2013.
Nothing could have been further from our minds.
For all of you who have suffered a significant loss of a loved one, you can understand grief and pain. There is no preparation for the loss of your child.
After considerable effort to get the facts and determine how Nick could have died while being cared for by a Peace Corps Medical Officer, we became committed to making sure no other family would have to lose their child, parent or sibling due to medical incompetence and negligence.
It was apparent the Peace Corps that Nick joined failed to follow the guidelines and procedures established by their own policies and practices. We were surprised to learn there had been no update in legislation pertaining to health care since the Peace Corps was established by Congress in 1961.
Our reform efforts began almost four years ago to change the culture of the Peace Corps and re-define the medical services provided to volunteers.
So where do you begin?
We began by reaching out to our Senators in California: Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. And we didn’t begin with a direct phone or in-person conversation with our Senators.
We had no experience in lobbying. One of the early lessons learned is if you are willing to give up and go away no one is going to stop you. But if you are persistent, continue to write and call Congressional offices, people begin to recognize you are serious and committed to addressing a problem.
You also must have some suggestions for your Congressional representative as to what is needed to improve the current condition.
Putting a face and a voice to the cause is so important to advancing your efforts. That is something that cannot be duplicated in an e-mail or phone call.
It is not always about a political party either. We are not constituents of the two most significant Congressional people who offered their help and committed to our efforts. It happens to be two Republicans: Representative Ted Poe and Senator Bob Corker. Their involvement comes from realizing a need for the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018.
We also worked with the previous Director of the Peace Corps, the interim Acting Director of the Peace Corps, and now the current Director, Dr. Jody Olsen. Director Olsen sees the necessity for the legislation. During our recent meeting with her, she expressed her full support and commitment to see the needed changes included in the legislation are implemented.
This, along with the partnership with the National Peace Corps Association, has made our goal a reality. There are countless individuals who have worked towards seeing this bill pass through Congress. We are almost there. We realize this bill does not include all the issues currently affecting Peace Corps Volunteers, mainly raising the disability rate from GS7 to GS 11; however, we remain committed to working for reform. This bill is just the first step.
The Peace Corps’ Mission
To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The Fourth Goal:
To be supportive, show compassion and advocate for Volunteers who may have had a different experience.
The Fourth Goal was started by us to create awareness of healthcare issues and act as a resource for volunteers and their families. We are in the infancy stage of developing this organization. There is a need to advocate and support Peace Corps Volunteers who return from service with issues not easily remedied by traditional Peace Corps resources. We hope to be able to work with Peace Corps on policy and with Congress to develop legislative measures. We hope to work with current and RPCVs to identify not only areas of concern but also positive experiences to learn from and share.
We have learned that two voices are more powerful than one. Imagine what can be done with a thousand voices.
Connecting with another human being face to face with honesty and sincerity makes a difference.
Doing something because it is the right thing to do. Isn’t that what the Peace Corps is all about?
SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY:
Write to your members of Congress urging final passage of Peace Corps health/safety legislation and adoption of the House version of the bill, while also noting more work needs to be done in the future to address the needs of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who come home with service-related illnesses or injuries.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the National Peace Corps Association or its members.
Story updated with copy edits June 3, 2021.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleThe Senate Foreign Relations Committee passes Nick Castle Reform Act see more
On the five-year anniversary of the death of Nick Castle, a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in China, legislation named in his memory took a step closer to passage in the United States Senate.
Yesterday, the Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2017 (S. 2286) was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation outlines key parameters to ensure the agency hires well-qualified personnel capable of administering effective health care services for volunteers, and calls upon the agency to complete all open recommendations from a 2016 Inspector General Assessment on medical care. The legislation also includes provisions that extend key elements of volunteer safety legislation (passed in 2011) to address sexual assault and other acts of violence against volunteers, and proposes further reforms to address matters related to sexual assault. Additionally, the legislation extends existing health care coverage for service-related injuries four months after volunteers complete their service, and requires public disclosure of volunteer satisfaction surveys and early termination rates.
"I am always inspired by young people, like Nick Castle, who dedicate themselves to making a difference early in life," said Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in a press release following the vote. "Nick exemplified the extraordinary commitment of Peace Corps volunteers who devote 2 - 3 years in service to our country. They deserve the very best support we can provide...As this bill advances to the full Senate, I am encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for our efforts to strengthen the Peace Corps and honor Nick Castle's memory."
Similar Peace Corps health and safety legislation is also in the House of Representatives. Introduced by Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), the Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act (H.R. 2259), contains many provisions similar to the Senate legislation, as well as additional provisions related to volunteers returning home with service related illness or injuries. Earlier this week, Congressmen John Yarmuth (D-KY), Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Sean Maloney (D-NY) became the latest co-sponsors of H.R. 2259, bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 52.
NPCA is supporting both versions of this legislation, urging the Senate and House to pass their bills and come together to approve the strongest final bill possible.
Join us. Take action now! Urge your lawmakers to co-sponsor this important Peace Corps legislation.