A group of former volunteers who were raped while working with the Peace Corps told Congress Wednesday that serious changes need to be made to the organization.
The victims explained that in many cases, the way they were treated by the Peace Corps after reporting the assault was more traumatic than the rape itself.
“These women are alone in many cases, and they’re in rough parts of the world,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) told The New York Times prior to the hearing.
Jessica Smochek told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that she was raped in 2004, at the age of 23, after being deployed to Bangladesh.
“The Peace Corps said that we might experience harassment during our posting, but that it just took some getting used to,” she explained.
Smochek reported the harassment she received after arriving in Bangladesh to Peace Corps staff but was told “those types of things happen.”
“A male volunteer offered to teach us self defense but the Peace Corps rejected this offer. We asked for pepper spray or Mace but the requests were denied. We begged to be moved to a safer site. Again, the Peace Corps refused,” she said.
“Soon, the very active reporting incidents to the Peace Corps grew dangerous. Locals who learned of the reports became furious. They told me and my site mates that they would hurt me if I didn’t keep quiet. We reported these threats too, but with each report the men grew angrier and the Peace Corps did nothing.”
Then, on Dec. 6, 2004, the men dragged Smochek into an abandoned courtyard and raped and violated her. “They raped me with their bodies. They raped me with foreign objects,” she told ABC News in January.
“I went to the capital to report the rape but the Peace Corps medical officer did not examine me or perform a rape kit or collect any evidence. Instead, she took away my cellphone. This unfortunately prevented me from warning other volunteers and my site mates about what had happened. In fact, she told me that if a did talk to other volunteers that I should just tell them that I was going to Washington to have my wisdom teeth taken out,” she told the House members Wednesday.
“Before leaving Bangladesh, I was forced to go back alone to my village — where my rapists remained — to gather my belongings and spend the night there one last time. Then, still reeling from the trauma, I was put on a plane alone back to Washington, D.C. The Peace Corps didn’t send me home or give me the option so I stayed in Washington for the next 45 days. When I arrived in D.C. late at night, no one was there to greet me at the airport. I was forced to find my way through this large unfamiliar city on my own.”
“The Peace Corps first sent me to a male gynecologist. He was insensitive and it was excruciating. The Peace Corps also required me to meet with a counselor who required me to write down everything I had done wrong for this to occurr. As examples, she suggested that I had been out after 5 p.m., I hadn’t screamed and I didn’t fight back,” Smochek said.