U.S. Foreign Assistance

Open Letter From a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Since 1979, Congress has prohibited the Peace Corps from covering abortion services for its volunteers and trainees, including in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. It’s a dangerous double standard that leaves volunteers who experience sexual assault with less comprehensive health coverage and less support than other federal employees, including Peace Corps administrative staff here in Washington.

The Peace Corps Equity Act aims to remedy this, by removing the statutory prohibition and bringing fair and equitable medical care to thousands of female Peace Corps volunteers. Ever since it was introduced in April, returned volunteers (including several PAI staff members) have been speaking out in support, many here on the blog.

The latest testimonial comes from Carin Brown, who served in the Peace Corps in the 1970s in Punjab, India:

“Like many volunteers, I lived without running water, food refrigeration, or electronic communication and had to walk long distances to the nearest form of transportation. We learned to do without and usually benefited from the experience, but we shouldn’t be asked to live without equal coverage for basic health care from our own government.

There are more than 8,000 current Peace Corps volunteers—60 percent of them women—who risk their safety every day. My heart goes out to the more than 1,000 volunteers who have reported experiencing sexual assault, including more than 212 rapes or attempted rape, in the last decade alone.   I have no doubt that countless more sexual assaults have gone unreported. Yet, when it comes to abortion, these women, unlike most other women who receive health care coverage from the federal government, are denied basic fairness in access to health care and in making their own personal medical decisions.

This is not the message of the Peace Corps that I served all those years ago. This is not what empowerment looks like. I have taken care of many rape survivors in my career as a physician and to feel cared for and supported after such a traumatic event is such an important part of the healing.

No woman serving our country should face the tragedy of sexual assault. But if she does, she should be able to access the health care and support services she needs.”

Check out the full post courtesy of our friends at Pathfinder International.

You can also read previous pieces by returned Peace Corps volunteers, including Suzanne Ehlers, Elisha Dunn-Georgiou, Jeff Locke, Kim Ocheltree, and Jordan Steiner. And leave us your thoughts in the comments!

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