Lately, several horrible stories about young women in the Peace Corps have called that organization's safety practices — and attitudes — into serious question.
Kate Puzey was stationed in Benin, working as a teacher. After she formed a girls' club, she started hearing about systemic sexual abuse by a school employee named Constant Bio. Puzey wrote a letter to the Peace Corps regional office recommending Bio be fired. "For obvious reasons, it's important to me that I remain anonymous in this situation," she wrote, and the Peace Corps agreed to keep her name out of it. But, shortly thereafter, Puzey was found dead, her throat slit. The Peace Corps has kept mum on the possibility of a confidentiality breach; the criminal investigation is ongoing.
By horrible coincidence, there has recently been another Peace Corps story in the news: this one about the sexual assault and rape of hundreds of female volunteers — and the agency's treatment of victims. One young woman stationed in Bangladesh tells ABC that despite repeatedly telling superiors she and other female volunteers felt unsafe, the Peace Corps refused to honor their wish to be restationed; later, she was gang-raped. Afterwards, she was told to "list all the things I'd done wrong...and all the things I'd do differently to prevent it from happening again." She was also told to keep the incident quiet. Volunteers from around the world tell similar stories — and all say they were given no support or understanding by the Peace Corps. One actually says a superior told her she was "a risky person and shouldn't have put myself in that position."
Now, the deputy diector of the Peace Corps tells ABC that "98% of Peace Corps volunteers say they feel safe or extremely safe" — which is commendable, but no comfort to those who don't feel so secure. While scores of people have wonderful experiences and the agency keeps thousands of people safe in difficult conditions, 2% is still far, far too much — and the attitudes that the assault victims appear to have encountered across the board are unacceptable. While Puzey's case is unique and uniquely tragic, her family also feel her safety was handled with an indifference that, ultimately, "set her up to be murdered." It is unfortunate that the two cases should be exposed in such quick succession, because in a sense it lumps two distinct issues into one — but if together they draw attention to women's safety — they need to be discussed.