News / USA

Benin Peace Corps Murder Provokes Calls for Reform

Nico Colombant

While the 2009 murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Benin remains unaccounted for, activists and former volunteers are seeking reforms to the U.S. overseas service program. 

A hearing last week in the U.S. Congress failed to bring answers from Peace Corps officials about the murder of Benin Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey.  Prior to her death, Puzey had sent an email to other Peace Corps officials accusing a Benin national employee of sexually abusing children at a school in the northern village of Badjoude, where she also taught.

Disappointment

Former Peace Corps volunteer and executive editor of a widely read blog called Gender Across Borders, Emily Heroy, was one of many activists who was disappointed after closely following the proceedings.

"What happened, that was atrocious," Heroy said. "That family deserves to hear what happened to their family member."

Needed reform

She says there needs to be not just accountability from Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, but also a complete change of how Peace Corps offices and employees worldwide deal with cases of sexual assault.

"Some of the country directors I know were not former Peace Corps volunteers, which I think makes a big difference," noted Heroy. "Maybe they do not understand the volunteer's point of view in that respect, but also the doctors also working with Peace Corps volunteers and the program directors as well, many of them are country nationals, so they may not understand where we are coming from as U.S. citizens and how we deal with sexual assault.  It may be different in their country."

Betrayal

During the hearing, Kate's mother, Lois Puzey, said that Kate's email about the sexual abuse was passed on to the accused, Constant Bio, despite Kate's insistence that her identity be protected.

"Kate particularly emphasized the need for confidentiality because she understood that the brother of Mr. Bio worked in that same country office as the Peace Corps director," explained Puzey. "Tragically the way that Kate's email was handled ultimately led to her death."

The suspect

Bio has been in custody since the March 2009 murder, while authorities in Benin continue to investigate. In a letter to a Benin newspaper, Bio asserted his innocence, claiming he was being framed by Americans.

Activists have called for new legislation, ranging from whistle-blower protection for those who accuse other Peace Corps employees of crimes to better care of volunteers who become victims of sexual abuse themselves.

Congressional hearing

Last week's hearing focused on testimony by former volunteers who had been sexually assaulted during their service, some of them by Peace Corps officials.  They all testified that they had been mistreated by the Peace Corps after the attacks, being told to hide what happened or finding themselves ignored.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. (file photo)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. (file photo)

Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the Peace Corps needed a "culture change".

"Peace Corps safety and security failures have been a recurrent problem with tragic consequences for thousands of volunteers," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Some who seek to ignore those problems have asserted that volunteer service itself is inherently risky as an excuse for lax and ineffective safety and security measures.  That attitude is unacceptable."

Apology

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams apologized to victims.

Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams
Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams

"The brave women who have come forward have shown us that the Peace Corps has not always been sufficiently responsive, compassionate or sensitive to victims of crime and their families," Williams said. "It is heartbreaking to learn that.  And I apologize for any additional pain the agency has inflicted on our volunteers."

Williams said changes are being made and implemented.  But during his testimony, he did not acknowledge any role the Peace Corps may have played in the death of Kate Puzey.
The volunteer organization, which this year marked 50 years of existence, has more than 8,000 volunteers serving in more than 70 countries, many of them in remote locations working for better health and education.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid