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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More