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The Peace Corps at 50: What’s a Little Rape, Murder, and Brutalization of Women Between Friends?

Posted on May 13 2011 12:45 pm
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Deborah Gardner, Peace Corps Volunteer, Murdered in Tonga

That great lefty favorite, the Peace Corps, just had a 50th birthday! You can tell, because it’s demanding presents. The Lefties who totally love conscience-salving stints in third world countries rejoiced and then swiftly returned to their soy lattes and organic arugula. Senator Harry Reid issued a breathless, sycophantic statement in which he, being Harry Reid, couldn’t resist making things up, pouting and petulantly trying to cling to funding.

I’m deeply discouraged that Republicans have proposed slashing significant funding for a program that trains workers for a 21st century global economy, builds good will around the world and promotes public service. Instead of reducing the effectiveness of a highly cost-effective program, we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way that targets waste and excess while keeping our economy growing.

Of course, he had nothing to say in response to charges that perhaps the Peace Corps isn’t so peaceful. At least not for the women who were raped – and then blamed for being raped – during their stints in the corps. No ado was made about the House hearing on Wednesday investigating the same, or the legislation proposed by Congressman Poe (R-TX) that would require some Peace Corps oversight. In fact, the New York Times reported that Democrats wished to, as always, sweep such things under the rug in fear that their precious funding might be lost:

[W]hether such a bill would pass Congress is unclear. Representative Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Massachusetts, is co-sponsoring Mr. Poe’s bill, but other Democrats are skittish about it. They worry that the legislation, and Wednesday’s hearing, might be used to undermine the Peace Corps — the legacy of a Democratic president — and cut its funding.

Hey, what’s a little rape, with the added insult of victim blaming, as long as we keep our sweet, sweet funding? You know what I am skittish about, Democrats? Funding an organization wherein women are raped, assaulted and even murdered; 1,000 women have been sexually assaulted while in the Peace Corps in the past decade alone. And 23 Peace Corps volunteers have been murdered since its creation. This isn’t new, either. Peace Corps volunteer Deborah Gardner lost her life in Tonga in 1976.

Deborah Gardner was murdered by fellow Peace Corps worker Dennis Priven, who turned himself in. After stabbing her – 22 times – to death. The Peace Corps reaction? Try to cover it up:

“Even after everyone knew it was Dennis, already that effort by the Peace Corps to put the blame somewhere else. And to make things go away,” says [author Phil] Weiss. “That impulse has seized the Peace Corps within moments of Deb’s death.”

As revolting as that is, they went one further. The Peace Corps hired, and paid for, the best defense attorney available in Tonga. Priven was found not guilty and the Peace Corps quietly shuffled him back to the United States. Where he lived freely, for decades. Working for the government. No, really:

Weiss says Priven has led a small, anonymous life since then. He’s divorced, and he recently retired after working for decades for the U.S. government.

“Twelve years after Deb’s death, he was working for Social Security,” says Weiss. “And ultimately was their top computer guy in the Brooklyn office.

Kate Puzey was 24 years old when she was brutally murdered, her throat slit, while working for the Peace Corps in 2009. Her concerns about a fellow employee were ignored, and then the subject of an attempted cover-up after her death.

Jessica Smochek was gang-raped in Bangladesh in 2004.  This is how the Peace Corps gave her aid afterward: not only medical malpractice, but they blamed her. For being gang-raped (emphasis mine):

Peace Corps medical officer refused to give her a proper physical examination. Instead, the medic confiscated the former English teacher’s cellphone so that she could not alert her fellow volunteers and instructed her to tell anyone who asked about her sudden departure from the program that she was returning to the U.S. to get her wisdom teeth out. When Smochek arrived in Washington, D.C., a Peace Corps official asked her to write down everything she had done to provoke the attack.

“Shortly after I left, the country director — who never attempted to contact me after I was raped — called a meeting of several women in my former volunteer group and told them, without my permission, what had happened to me,” she said. “Then, he told them that rape was a woman’s fault and that I had caused what happened to me by being out alone after 5:00 PM. As for the other women in the group, who had been very vocal about being constantly stalked and afraid, he threatened them with administrative separation.”

Jessica was one of the courageous women who testified before Congress on Wednesday. You know, that same Congress that contains members more concerned with loss of funding than actual women and the violent crimes committed against them.

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