Monthly Archives: January 2016

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 .
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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