In a rare act of bipartisanship, the U.S. Congress passed The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. The bill, passed during the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary year, is designed to create a better safety net for Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corp has come under increasing pressure to support volunteers who become victims of sexual assault during their time in the field, as well as to support volunteers who are whistleblowers against corruption and other issues in the locations where they serve. The recently passed act was named after College of William and Mary alumna Kate Puzey ’06, a volunteer who lost her life in Benin after reporting to her superior that a fellow teacher was sexually molesting female students.
The Peace Corps is supposed to act as a positive force of the U.S. diplomacy. It is immensely important to support the volunteers who give two or more years of their lives to work in foreign nations and serve U.S. interests. Serving is an incredible opportunity for individuals to get first-hand experience in international development, but there are serious risks associated with volunteering.
Sixty percent of the more than 8,000 active Peace Corps volunteers are women. In 2009, there were 15 reported cases of rape or attempted rape and 96 cases of sexual assault reported within the Pease Corps.
Because some volunteers have experiencedproblems tyring to report crimes and other incidents, some individuals feel that the organization hasn’t done enough to protect volunteers from harm when they are in the field. So many men and women, young and old and from various backgrounds, become volunteers. It is of the utmost importance to maintain their safety and security while they serve.
The College has the eighth-highest number of volunteers out of medium-sized institutions of higher education. Every year, many of our graduates decide to join the Peace Corps and live in relative isolation to see the world and learn more about possible career fields. Students at the College are passionate about service, and many students plan to pursue a career in international development. We must understand that what we see in our academic classes or on the College’s many international service trips sometimes do not wholly reflect the realities of the field. At the College, students tend to glamorize international service, but the fact is that development is hard. The Peace Corps isn’t just a two-year vacation spent traveling in some exotic country — volunteers spend their time serving others in far-flung regions. The Peace Corps has a famous saying: The service is the toughest job you’ll ever love. While service is hard work and a large commitment, many past volunteers enjoy the experience because they are able to give so much back to communities.
It is unfortunate that one of the College’s own died in field and many other volunteers have suffered while trying to help people by teaching children and working on development projects. We hope the soon-to-be-law’s new protocols will strengthen the protection of volunteers. These volunteers dedicate years of their lives to serving individuals in these communities and promoting U.S. interests. These volunteers are already far from home — they should not be far from safety as well.