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.
Peace Corps Under Pressure Over Albania Sex ScandalTwo volunteers are demanding changes to the way the organization responds tosexual harassment charges following the firing of a whistleblower in Albania.By Fatjona MejdiniAfter the Peace Corps allowed an easy exit for a former country director inAlbania who was accused of sexual harassment – and fired the whistleblower whoreported the claims – staff in Albania are campaigning for it to change itsinternal policies.The idea was born from an online chat among Peace Corps volunteers in Albaniawho discussed the organization’s response to a recent scandal.Peace Corps volunteer in Albania Bonnie Scott reported the former countrydirector for sexually assaulting two Albanian women in August 2015.While the director was allowed to resign – enabling him to continue his careerunscathed – Scott was sacked one month later by the interim director over whatappeared to be a technicality.The sacking motivated some Peace Corps volunteers to start demanding changes totheir 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 tothe victims and this fact alarmed us,â Hobbs added.Hobbs came to Albania from Florida in March 2014 and is working as a volunteerin 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 PeaceCorps headquarters and the director of the organization, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.The petition urges Peace Corps headquarters to change its policies regardingsexual assault charges within the organization.When a Peace Corps staff member is found to be involved in sex-harassment caseswith 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 shouldalso not to allow the staff member or volunteer in question to resign but shouldterminate his or her contract.The changes that they want to make bypass the organization in Albania and aredirected to its US headquarters. The idea is to push forward policies that wouldbe implemented in Peace Corps offices worldwide.Hobbs and Kris Parker told BIRN that they and other Peace Corps members whojoined this petition thought that going public with their initiative would helptheir cause.They say the Peace Corps must recognize that volunteers are unhappy with howthings are going.
The two say they have encountered hesitation and pushback from within theorganization as well as support.The first challenge was to persuade their colleagues who are based in Albania tosupport this initiative.While almost half of this organization’s staff and volunteers in Albania, wherethe Peace Corp has 82 volunteers, support this initiative, the two say that theyexpected 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 inCalifornia for a wide range of causes before joining the Peace Corps in Albaniain March 2014.Now a volunteer in the Directory of Public Health in the central Albanian townof Gramsh, he believes the issues raised in their petition remain a taboo withinthe 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 asafety issue because other people in future may come into contact withperpetrators who have not been held accountable,â he said. Hobbs and Parker told BIRN that after the initiative went online, they receiveda letter from the regional director of the Peace Corps, Keri Lowry, in which hesaid 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 separationaction 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 maynot 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 PolicyCommittee, they are not sitting idly but are contemplating their next moves.Hobbs and Parker have already reached out to the National Organization forVictim Assistance and National Crime Victim Law Institute in the US, asking themto look at their petition and suggest next steps.â The second option is to go through a representative in Congress who can pickup our fight and present the policy changes,â Hobbs said. They believe the changes they advocate will strengthen the organization in theend.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 issuewas 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 theworld. For us, it was an easy decision,â Parker said. Hobbs told BIRN that she got a call from Peace Corps, setting up an onlineconversation to further discuss about the policy changes they have proposed.She also said that the new country director in Albania â has expressed supportand gratitude for our commitment to this issueâ .