Congressman Poe speaks out for Peace Corps

Peace Corps Volunteers have a strong ally in Congressman Poe. Just last week he spoke on the House floor about a Peace Corps Volunteer that was removed from service for reporting the misconduct of a Peace Corps Country Director. http://poe.house.gov/2016/4/bonnie-scott-peace-corps-victim

#‎PeaceCorpsStrong‬ ‪

#‎JusticeforPCVolunteers‬

 


BONNIE SCOTT—PEACE CORPS VICTIM
Apr 28 2016

Mr. Speaker, targeted, bullied, and terrorized, these are the words that Bonnie Scott used to describe her dismissal from the Peace Corps. One month after reported allegations that another U.S. Peace Corps member had harassed and sexually assaulted two local women, Scott was dismissed—interesting.

This is not the first time that we have heard of these actions. In 2015, a report found that one in five Peace Corps volunteers were victims of sexual assault.

Half of the victims do not report their attacks. Many state that they were blamed by the Peace Corps for their sexual assaults. Even though Congress has passed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, the Peace Corps has work to do to protect these amazing ambassadors abroad.

Mr. Speaker, Peace Corps volunteers are the best America has. These volunteers must know that America will protect them overseas.

If a crime occurs against them, America will stand by them, not abandon them. And if a crime is committed, they need to know the crime is not their fault; it is the fault of the perpetrator.

And that is just the way it is.

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‘Targeted, Bullied, and Terrorized’: How the Peace Corps Fails Rape Victims

 

Thousands of young women sign up every year to serve in the Peace Corps, but former volunteers and employees say that the global volunteer program is failing to protect and support those who have been sexually assaulted or raped while on duty.

It was September in Tirana, Albania’s frenzied, crumbling capital. The hot weather’s vice-like grip on the city had released a little and the temperature had finally slid below 30 degrees. In a badly-ventilated conference room, Bonnie Scott sat—nearly paralyzed with fear and confusion—as Cale Wagner, Peace Corps’ new country director in Albania, told her she was being dismissed for failing to hand in paperwork.

He was right. Scott, who had been volunteering with the US government program in an Albanian village, had not submitted her leave request for a conference—but that wasn’t usually a big deal. She knew a lot of people who hadn’t handed in their paperwork. None of them had been sent home. However just over a month earlier, Scott had reported allegations that another US Peace Corps staff member had harassed and sexually assaulted two local women. This, she believes, was the real reason she was dismissed.

Scott’s story is not an isolated case. The Peace Corps’ past is littered withallegations that it does not provide adequate support for whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault. The US government program—which currently has nearly 7,000 American volunteers serving around the world on development projects—has also been accused of an entrenched culture of victim-blaming among its staff.

Read More: The Sexual Assault Survivor Saving Untested Rape Kits from the Trash

In 2011, ABC reported that more than 1,000 women had been raped or sexually assaulted while serving in the Peace Corps over the last decade. More recently, aleaked internal Peace Corps report from 2015 found that roughly one in five volunteers have been sexually assaulted. Half of the victims did not report their attack. Some of the women involved say they were blamed by staff for what happened.

Sipping lemon tea in a coffee shop in Tirana five months later, Seattle native Scott, 53, said she felt “targeted, bullied and terrorized” throughout the dismissal process. She said that Wagner told her that unless she boarded a plane in less than 48 hours after their meeting, Peace Corps would not pay for her flight home. Scott refused. Instead she stayed in Albania to continue her work on women’s rights and to expose what happened.

Bonnie Scott in Albania. Photo courtesy of subject

It all started in August last year when Scott was approached by a local who told her about two women who were alleging that a member of the Peace Corps had assaulted them. Scott reported the allegations to Peace Corps on August 7. Soon afterwards the Peace Corps announced that the person had resigned “for personal reasons.” It was this that motivated Scott to talk to the press.

“Peace Corps did the right thing by getting rid of him so quickly, but they tried to cover it up,” she says. “I couldn’t let him just resign. That meant he could get a job somewhere else.”

Another Peace Corps volunteer, also based in the Balkans, said the timing of Scott’s dismissal from Peace Corps seemed suspicious, “especially since the [paperwork] violations which got her separated are fairly common among volunteers and seem like they were selectively enforced. It’s all too convenient that she was separated [dismissed] after reporting against [one of her colleagues].”

The volunteer, who asked not be named for fear of losing their position, said: “Peace Corps must begin changing the internal culture of the organization. There is zero tolerance for drug use but there is not zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, and that is unacceptable.”

In 2014, another incident raised alarm bells over Peace Corps’ treatment of female volunteers. Dr. Kris Morris, a Peace Corps clinical psychologist, said in emails obtained by The Daily Beast that volunteers who were victims of sexual assault and demonstrated a “need for ongoing therapy” were not “fit for Peace Corps service.”

Kellie Greene witnessed this victim-blaming culture first-hand while working as the Director of the PeaceCorps Office of Victims Advocacy. It was her responsibility to support volunteers who had been victims of crime, including theft, violence, and sexual assault. She spoke to volunteers directly and developed policies to reduce the trauma experienced by victims.

Kellie Greene on a Peace Corps mission. Photo courtesy of subject

Her role was created as part of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act in 2011, a law that was made in response to the murder of a volunteer in Benin. Puzey, a 24 year old from Atlanta, was found with her throat slit soon after reporting her suspicions that a Peace Corps contractor was sexually abusing students at the school where she taught.

In November, after over four years of working at Peace Corps, Greene was placed on unpaid suspension for creating a “hostile” work environment. “The agency doesn’t want a victim advocate that challenges the status quo of how the Peace Corps treats its volunteers who are victims of sexual assault and other crimes,” Green tells Broadly.

She believes the hostile environment was created by staffers who didn’t want the culture to change. “The position was not well received by staff at HQ or by staff out in the field. Every day was a struggle.”

Greene believes her unpaid suspension was “abusive.” She has since been reassigned to a new position in the Office of Staff Development and Learning, which she believes proves “that the Peace Corps knows the actions they have taken against me are extreme and not well founded.” Her legal team is in the process of filing a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel over her reassignment.

Both Scott and Greene believe the reason why Peace Corps has such a bad record on sexual assault is because staff are not held accountable for their actions or their attitudes. Scott suspects this is linked to the way American staff are restricted to serving five year terms. “They have no real concern about the volunteers and nobody demands change because they all know they are going to leave.”

Greene says Peace Corps should not tolerate staff that exhibit victim-blaming attitudes. She says that while working in the Victims’ Advocacy Office, she would often hear volunteers say that staff minimized complaints of sexual assault, telling them what happened “is not a big deal” or “happens all the time.”

The Peace Corps told Broadly that the organization could not comment on Scott’s or Greene’s cases specifically unless a privacy waiver was signed. “These are unproven allegations and we welcome the signing of privacy waivers so we can discuss these claims more specifically,” a spokesperson says.

Read More: Rape Was a Problem in Germany Long Before Refugees Arrived

“Peace Corps takes allegations of whistleblowing seriously, does not retaliate against whistle-blowers, and encourages those with allegations to come forward. We have achieved extraordinary progress [through policy reform], seeing nothing short of a culture change that reflects our dedication to volunteers and our commitment to a response that is victim–centered and consistent with our nation’s best practice.”

Greene agrees that progress has been made but she sees Peace Corps’ attitude towards counselling as indicative of the wider problem. A Peace Corps spokesperson says the program does not limit the number of counselling sessions that an individual can receive. Greene says in practice, that’s not true. “If the volunteer wants more than six sessions, the Peace Corps tells them they are ‘not fit for service,'” she says, echoing the 2014 email leak. “In this situation a volunteer is forced to either forego counselling in order to continue service or terminate service to continue with counselling.”

When it comes to victims of sexual assault, Peace Corps treats victims as if they were disposable, says Greene. “Peace Corps will manage trauma to the convenience of the agency. And once a volunteer requires too much time and effort, the organization is quick to say, ‘We’ve got thousands of people in the US that want to be volunteers—let them be replaced.'”

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Peace Corps Volunteers demand action

Peace Corps Under Pressure Over Albania Sex Scandal

Two volunteers are demanding changes to the way the organization responds to sexual harassment charges following the firing of a whistleblower in Albania.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN

Tirana

Ansley Hobbs and Kris Parker speaking for BIRN in Tirana | Photo: BIRN

After the Peace Corps allowed an easy exit for a former country director in Albania who was accused of sexual harassment – and fired the whistleblower who reported the claims – staff in Albania are campaigning for it to change its internal policies.

The idea was born from an online chat among Peace Corps volunteers in Albania who discussed the organization’s response to a recent scandal.

Peace Corps volunteer in Albania Bonnie Scott reported the former country director for sexually assaulting two Albanian women in August 2015.

While the director was allowed to resign – enabling him to continue his career unscathed – Scott was sacked one month later by the interim director over what appeared to be a technicality.

The sacking motivated some Peace Corps volunteers to start demanding changes to their organization’s internal practices.

(below is the rest of the article)

 

 

  • Peace Corps Under Pressure Over Albania Sex Scandal
    Two volunteers are demanding changes to the way the organization responds to
    sexual harassment charges following the firing of a whistleblower in Albania.
    By Fatjona Mejdini
    After the Peace Corps allowed an easy exit for a former country director in
    Albania who was accused of sexual harassment – and fired the whistleblower who
    reported the claims – staff in Albania are campaigning for it to change its
    internal policies.
    The idea was born from an online chat among Peace Corps volunteers in Albania
    who discussed the organization’s response to a recent scandal.
    Peace Corps volunteer in Albania Bonnie Scott reported the former country
    director for sexually assaulting two Albanian women in August 2015.
    While the director was allowed to resign – enabling him to continue his career
    unscathed – Scott was sacked one month later by the interim director over what
    appeared to be a technicality.
    The sacking motivated some Peace Corps volunteers to start demanding changes to
    their organizationâ s internal practices. 
    Laura Ansley Hobbs and Kris Parker took the lead in this initiative.
    â I started to dig into the reports of the Office of Inspector General, OIG 
    and realized that this was not an isolated incident,â Hobbs told BIRN.
    â I read other cases where volunteers or staff members assaulted women and 
    they were allowed to resign. There was no information regarding what happened to
    the victims and this fact alarmed us,â Hobbs added.
    Hobbs came to Albania from Florida in March 2014 and is working as a volunteer
    in the Directory of Public Health in the northern town of Puka.
    She launched an online petition for the policy changes last November.
    The petition was also sent to US President Barack Obama, the Congress, the Peace
    Corps headquarters and the director of the organization, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.
    The petition urges Peace Corps headquarters to change its policies regarding
    sexual assault charges within the organization.
    When a Peace Corps staff member is found to be involved in sex-harassment cases
    with residents of host countries, the organization must help victims with help,
    health care and legal assistance if they want to press charges.
    When allegations of sexual misconduct are substantiated, the organization should
    also not to allow the staff member or volunteer in question to resign but should
    terminate his or her contract.
    The changes that they want to make bypass the organization in Albania and are
    directed to its US headquarters. The idea is to push forward policies that would
    be implemented in Peace Corps offices worldwide.
    Hobbs and Kris Parker told BIRN that they and other Peace Corps members who
    joined this petition thought that going public with their initiative would help
    their cause.
    They say the Peace Corps must recognize that volunteers are unhappy with how
    things are going.
  • The two say they have encountered hesitation and pushback from within the
    organization as well as support.
    The first challenge was to persuade their colleagues who are based in Albania to
    support this initiative.
    While almost half of this organization’s staff and volunteers in Albania, where
    the Peace Corp has 82 volunteers, support this initiative, the two say that they
    expected firmer support.
    â From the conversations I have had with some volunteers, some don’t feel it 
    is the Peace Corpsâ responsibility to provide care for non-Peace Corps 
    members, although, in my opinion, they havenâ t given me any good reasons to 
    support their point of view,â Parker told BIRN.
    Parker holds a degree in Media and Culture Studies and was an activist in
    California for a wide range of causes before joining the Peace Corps in Albania
    in March 2014.
    Now a volunteer in the Directory of Public Health in the central Albanian town
    of Gramsh, he believes the issues raised in their petition remain a taboo within
    the Peace Corps.
    â The Peace Corps prioritizes a quick resolution more than holding 
    perpetrators fully accountable. This is not just an ethical issue but also a
    safety issue because other people in future may come into contact with
    perpetrators who have not been held accountable,â he said.
    Hobbs and Parker told BIRN that after the initiative went online, they received
    a letter from the regional director of the Peace Corps, Keri Lowry, in which he
    said that â there are legal limits on the medical care and services we may 
    provide to those who are not official Peace Corps Volunteer.â
    As for the termination of contracts in case of allegations of sexual misconduct,
    the regional director argued that the law â does not permit us from 
    prohibiting an employee from resigning at any time prior to a final separation
    action for the causeâ .
    However, the director added that â along with our comment to this policy, the 
    agencyâ s Senior Policy Committee will consider the recommendationâ  
    contained in the petition.
    Parker sees this as a pushback from Peace Corps leadership and believes they may
    not want to acknowledge the scale of the problem.
    â I think they perceive this as an inconvenience that can damage Peace 
    Corpsâ reputation,â Parker stated.  
    While the petitioners await a response from the organization’s Senior Policy
    Committee, they are not sitting idly but are contemplating their next moves.
    Hobbs and Parker have already reached out to the National Organization for
    Victim Assistance and National Crime Victim Law Institute in the US, asking them
    to look at their petition and suggest next steps.
    â The second option is to go through a representative in Congress who can pick
    up our fight and present the policy changes,â Hobbs said.
    They believe the changes they advocate will strengthen the organization in the
    end.
    â We can be critical of Peace Corps even from within the organization. I 
    believe that this initiative makes us good volunteers,â Hobbs said.
  • But she and Parker added that they were not going to back off, because the issue
    was more important than them being volunteers.
    â If we are going to be kicked out of Peace Corps, we are not going to lose 
    any sleep for trying to make policy changes that can benefit people around the
    world. For us, it was an easy decision,â Parker said.
    Hobbs told BIRN that she got a call from Peace Corps, setting up an online
    conversation to further discuss about the policy changes they have proposed.
    She also said that the new country director in Albania â has expressed support
    and gratitude for our commitment to this issueâ .

Media coverage in Albania

Top Channel, the premier news channel here, reports on women, sexual assault and the new laws recently implemented to protect women.  The Peace Corps cover up story illustrates the challenges women face and why we don’t report crimes.

Top Channel focused on new laws and how women can use those laws.  This is a piece by Albanian women for Albanian women and I am proud to have helped broadcast this information.

http://www.top-channel.tv/new/tv/videot.php?id=69668#.VpjyOmaiLpo.email

 

 

 

 

Complete BIRN article

The story is finally out. It is position now in the first page of BalkanInsight:
The Link (so you can see photo of me!)

 

The article

 

Peace Corps Whistleblower Pays Price in Albania

 

Bonnie Scott believes she lost her job because she reported sexual harassment allegations against the former country director to Washington HQ.

 

When Bonnie Scott left Seattle for Albania in March 2014 to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer, she never imagined the strange twists that her path in the country would take.

Back in Seattle, she had sold her house and car and quit a lucrative job and had departed for a new life in a country that she did not know much about.

“I applied to the Peace Corps to see if my skills could be used somewhere. I was originally supposed to go in Ukraine, but [the actions in Ukraine of Russian President Vladimir] Putin changed that, so they said that if I could leave in seven days I could go to Albania,” she recalled.

“I said: ‘Albania, what? Ok, whatever,’” she told BIRN in an interview in a bar in Tirana.

 

Pogradec, a lakeside town in eastern Albania, was her first base. She started working there as a volunteer, first for the municipality on tourism and ecotourism and then for the Girls Leading our World program, GLOW, which aims to train high school girls into becoming leaders.

After the experience of working with local girls, which she considered “hugely successful,” she left Pogradec for Tirana.

After six months of living and working in Tirana as a volunteer, she had an encounter that turned her experience in the Peace Corps upside down.

In August 2015, an Albanian contacted her and told her a disturbing story of events that had reportedly occurred in Peace Corps in the summer of 2013 in Tirana.

“I was told that the Peace Corps country director assaulted two Albanian women … and was asked if there was any way we could stop this from happening again,” she recalls.

Immediately after receiving this information, she reported it to the Peace Corps office in Tirana.

“The person I contacted made a phone call about the case to the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington,” she recalled.

“They reacted and conducted an investigations into the case within two weeks. They [investigators] jumped all over it, and came to Albania around August 29 for further investigations,” she added.

On September 3, the country director sent a resignation letter to the Peace Corps Albania staff, saying that he was leaving the country for personal reasons.

“After I saw his letter, I told everybody that I knew the real motive behind his resignation,” Scott said.

“I did this because I didn’t want him to go and get a job somewhere else. He still looked like a pretty good manager on paper,” she explained.

Scott says the assault allegations are recorded in the report of the Office of Inspector General, OIG, of the Peace Corps to the US Congress.

Page 40 page of the report reads: “OIG received an allegation that a country director groped a host country national while intoxicated.

“Following the investigation, the country director resigned. The victim declined to seek criminal prosecution of the matter.”

Kicked out the Peace Corps:

Soon after the now former country director left, Scott says her problems with the Peace Corps started.

“The [new] acting country director, Cale Wagner, started immediately targeting me in retaliation for my report against the former director,” she said.

“In the end, he fired me from the Peace Corps on September 13, claiming I had failed to complete a proper leave request to attend a Durres conference,” she added.

The official reason for sacking her was failure to duly request leave to attend a Peace Corps conference in the port of Durres on September 7-9.

Scott says she emailed her immediate supervisor on August 7 with a request for leave to attend the Durres conference, but “attached the wrong file in it.”

“My supervisor never said anything, so I thought nothing was wrong with it,” she said.

She believes the reason for sacking her is suspicious. “It never happened before that someone was kicked out from the Peace Corps for paperwork,” she maintained.

“Another woman at the [same] conference also did not fill out the paperwork and the … only gave her a written reprimand.

“There was another woman in the conference who filled out her paperwork wrong and they never even noticed. It was just me!” she continued.

Between September 7 and 13, she said she had numerous exchanges with the office director that were tense and upsetting.

After this, on September 13, she found herself out of the Peace Corps with her service passport taken and her bank account closed.

“I cried a lot, it has been really… so sad,” she said.

“I gave up everything to come and do this. I reported a crime and have been treated like a criminal. But I didn’t commit a crime,” she added.

She has not left without a fight, however.

“I filed a whistle-blower complaint and the Office of Inspector General said ‘We take this complaint seriously’, and they got back to me to tell me that they have been moving the case forward to Office of Civil Rights Diversity,” she recalled.

BIRN meanwhile contacted Peace Corps Albania’s acting director, Cale Wagner, and asked whether Scott’s sacking had any connection to her reporting the former country director for wrongdoing.

“The Peace Corps takes all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously. Under US law and Peace Corps policy, retaliation against whistleblowers is strictly prohibited,” the reply from the press service of Peace Corps Albania said.

“Staff and Volunteers leave Peace Corps service for a variety of reasons, and due to legal and policy considerations, including the obligation to comply with US laws, including the Privacy Act, we cannot comment on any specific case,” the reply added.

Scott is still in Albania, still working as a volunteer for the GLOW project in Tirana and still enjoying helping women raise their leadership skills.

She also works with another NGO, the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment, PPNEA, in Albania, which is campaigning to save the rare Balkan lynx from extinction.

She is totally convinced that she did the right thing and does not regret it, or her decision to remain in Albania. “If I had to do it over again, I would absolutely do it again,” she said.

 

BIRN reports

Peace Corps Whistleblower Pays Price in Albania

Bonnie Scott believes she lost her job because she reported sexual harassment allegations against the former country director to Washington HQ.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network

Tirana

Link to article Peace Corps Whistleblower

Bonnie Scott in Albania.

When Bonnie Scott left Seattle for Albania in March 2014 to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer, she never imagined the strange twists that her path in the country would take.

 

Peace Corps Whistleblower