Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out About Violent Rapes

Jess Smochek was in her early twenties when she was gang-raped in Bangladesh during her stint as a Peace Corps volunteer.  The brutal assault took place after Smochek had pleaded to be reassigned; she said that the group of men, who had tried to stalk, touch, and kiss her from the day she arrived in the city, raped her with their bodies and with foreign objects. 

“They slammed me against the wall and just started threatening me, they’re calling me a filthy American whore,” she said. “‘We told you to stop going to the police. And now we have to kill you.’”

According to Smochek, the Peace Corps then tried to cover up the violence, fearful of offending officials in Bangladesh.  This story is familiar to a distressingly large number of Peace Corps volunteers, who were assaulted while abroad and then made to feel as though the rapes were their fault.  They are now speaking out about the violence committed against them.  On Wednesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing to examine what Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called a “safety problem [that] has been disguised for decades.”

According to the New York Times, “from 2000 to 2009, on average, 22 Peace Corps women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape, the agency says. During that time, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes.”  And since the incidence of sexual assault reporting is low, the real numbers are probably much higher.

The victim-blaming culture at the Peace Corps seems to be strong.  The agency announced that it will replace a video in which victims “appear on camera describing what they had done wrong to bring on sexual assault.”  Another woman said that a Peace Corps medical officer  “made me write in my testimony that I was intoxicated” and suggested that “I willingly had sex with this guy.”

Women were also raped by Peace Corps members.  Carol Clark was assaulted by her Nepalese program director, became pregnant, and claims that the Peace Corps gave her a choice: have an abortion or quit.

Strangely enough, as Mother Jones blogger Suzy Khimm points out, the Republicans are leading the charge in investigating potential failures to protect and respect sexual assault victims and reduce rape culture within the Peace Corps.  The Democrats are apparently “skittish” about investigating the allegations, fearing that the Republicans would ultimately use the evidence to fuel funding cuts to the Peace Corps.  This, needless to say, is an incredibly cowardly way to approach the issue.

 

Photo from the U.S. Military.

81 comments

Janine H.
Janine H.5 years ago

This is so terrible. Always when i hear about terrible things it makes med sad, and i cannot understand how someone could do something terrible - hurt, rape or kill a person or animal. When i was a child this also happened to me... and surviving this is more terrible than not (parents and other may think different, but a victim?), living with all this pain... living with guilty feelings... full with hate for the own self
No one can understand, because most people cannot imagine this, cannot imagine how much it change. Some of them think, that this would not be so terrible, because all would make some sexual experiences, and so it would not matter if there were some without own interest or wish. This cruel and superficial society makes me sick.

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

jane richmond
jane richmond5 years ago

AWFUL

Lika S.
Lika S.5 years ago

Sad. This is supposed to be the PEACE CORPS, not the hateful rape corp.

Katie M.

Wow. I can't believe the Peace Corps does not do a better job at protecting it's own volunteers. Then to cover up these crimes and blame the victim...what an outrage!

Christine S.

To add to Corey Mondello's comment : sadly, the United State's military is just as guilty of covering up rape. The Catholic church is so full of hypocrisy, I could see them covering up sexual assault- but to hear that the Peace Corps is blaming the victim in order to kowtow to offending countries is sickening...

Betsy M.
Betsy M.5 years ago

@Vera Y You read an article about how Westerners charged with protecting young, enthusiastic volunteers fail to do so. Your take on it is that Asians are uncivilized? There are degenerates everywhere who will try to take advantage where they can. It is how the responsible parties in society respond to the bullies that creates civilization. (Also applicable to the financial bullies)

Sydney White
Sydney White5 years ago

I'm in high school and was intending on joining the peace corps the second i graduated college. Sadly this makes me question whether or not i still want to. at the end of the day i just want to make a positive difference in the world

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi5 years ago

This is simply disgusting girls in peace corps should never be allowed to go out alone unless accompanied by male member because the places they visit are not safe for women

David Anderson
David Anderson5 years ago

It would seem that following through with meaningful punishments would be a good start--fire those who fail to provide for the safety of those under them, and imprison thsoe who coerce or attempt to coerce the victims into officially or unofficially accepting blame for the crime. Beyond that, a good argument could be made for administering hot lead.

Veronica C.
Veronica C.5 years ago

The Peace Corps sends their volunteers to some terribly unsafe places, much like reporters, as we saw with Lara Logan, and it does not protect them or defend them. They want female volunteers, but now that we see how they are treated, the women will stop joining. Who would want to help others when no one is there to help them?