Rape in the Peace Corps

[TW for discussion of rape, accounts of rape, and rape apologia]

I had not heard about this until today.  ABC News (TW on link – rape accounts that are brutal):

More than 1,000 young American women have been raped or sexually assaulted in the last decade while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in foreign countries, an ABC News 20/20 investigation has found.

In some cases, victims say, the Peace Corps has ignored safety concerns and later tried to blame the women who were raped for bringing on the attacks. […]

She says the Peace Corps immediately began to cover up what happened to her, fearful, she says, of offending officials in Bangladesh.  “When the decision was made that I was to go to Washington, D.C., I was told to tell volunteers that I was having my wisdom teeth out,” Smochek says.

Peace Corps deputy director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said she was unaware of the gang rape of Jess Smochek because she was only recently appointed.  She denied the Peace Corps has attempted to cover up or keep quiet the large number of rapes and sexual assaults.

“This is the first I’ve heard of any report of that nature,” she said. […]

The Peace Corps pulled all of its volunteers out of Bangladesh in 2006, citing possible “terrorism” issues.

Between 2000 and 2009, Peace Corps figures show there were 221 rapes or attempted rapes, 147 major sexual attacks and 719 other sexual assaults—defined as unwanted or forced kissing, fondling or groping.  According to the figures, there is a yearly average of 22 rapes. There were 15 in the year for which the figures are most recently available, 2009. […]

Other women said they were told that by having a drink or two they had invited the attacks. “I was a risky person, and that I had in some way put myself in that situation,” said Adrianna Ault Nolan, who was raped in 1998 but says she still carries the mental scars of the incident.  “I still blame myself,” says Christina Holsomback of Alabama, who was raped in the country of Georgia in 2008. “Maybe I should not have had a drink or maybe we shouldn’t have gone to dinner.” […]

The Peace Corps says it is not the agency’s policy to blame victims of rape and sexual assault. “There are volunteers who have been assaulted or raped who actually do speak kindly of Peace Corps,” said Hessler-Radelet.

She said she was surprised to hear the stories because the Peace Corps has a Special Services office designed to help victims and has recently created a task force to re-examine agency policies for dealing with sexual assault victims.

Wow.  Just wow.

Of course, this is not surprising.  We live in a culture of rape.

When the Steelers won the AFC championship this weekend with Ben Roethlisberger leading his team’s way, Twitter exploded with – hahahaha – rape jokes.  Because rape is funny.

When a powerful white dude who is fighting the good, liberal fight is accused of rape, long-time rape victim advocate, Naomi Wolf, suddenly starts the standard spew of rape apologia.  Because women, especially rape victims, lie all the time, especially when the men are powerful.  Right, Naomi?  Rape apologia is too easy to grasp on to when suddenly you need it as a tool in your toolbox.

When beer commercials want to sell beer to American dudes, why not use rape as a familiar trope?  Because it apparently sells.

When we hear about mass rape in other countries, we either ignore it or say that it is a “cultural” problem.

When we send women to fight our battles in our wars, we can’t even protect them from sexual assault and we don’t seem to care:

The Pentagon’s latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population.

The problem is even worse than that. The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, and it’s no wonder. Anonymity is all but impossible; a Government Accountability Office report concluded that most victims stay silent because of “the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip.” More than half feared they would be labeled troublemakers. A civilian who is raped can get confidential, or “privileged,” advice from her doctors, lawyers, victim advocates; the only privilege in the military applies to chaplains. A civilian who knows her assailant has a much better chance of avoiding him than does a soldier at a remote base, where filing charges can be a career killer — not for the assailant but the victim. Women worry that they will be removed from their units for their own “protection” and talk about not wanting to undermine their missions or the cohesion of their units. And then some just do the math: only 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sex crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those convicted are honorably discharged nonetheless.

Then, to top it all off, you get shit like this.  Jesse Bering, someone who writes about evolutionary psychology (which is basically as scientifically-based as, say, astrology from what I can tell), wrote this:

Given the enormity of this adaptive problem for ancestral women, it is plausible that human females would have evolved a set of counter-adaptations to protect them from being raped, and that these anti-rape adaptations would be activated, specifically, during the woman’s most fertile period, the periovulatory phase of her reproductive cycle.

According to the evolution of psychology, us ladies are better able to fend off rapists when we ovulate.  Genetics, baby!  Except this is a stupid, patriarchal idea.  Because clearly, women aren’t protected from rape.  Clearly, ovulation doesn’t stop women from being sexually assaulted.  Based on all evidence of actual numbers of rape and sexual assault, the chances that a rapist will rape me don’t seem to be altered at all by where I am in my cycle.

And, what if I am raped and am ovulating?  What does that mean?  Are the studies wrong or did I not fight hard enough given my ridiculous ovulating strength?  Did I not listen to my ovulating instincts that told me to be more weary of strange dudes and black men (yes, that’s in there – like our racism is a result of evolution)?  Also, what about the fact that most women aren’t raped by strangers or black dudes?

And so, when the blogosphere erupted in disgust, Bering had to respond to tell us that no one seems to care about his writing when he is only writing about your standard fare fake-ish science.  I can’t imagine why people mainly come down on him when it’s females and their sex lives that he is talking about.:

For my last piece here at Slate (“Darwin’s Rape Whistle“), I described a diverse set of scientific studies that were motivated by what I deem to be a very reasonable hypothesis: that women’s social cognition and behavior have been shaped by natural selection to pre-empt rape, and that these adaptations are likely to come into play at precisely the time when a woman’s mate choice and genetic interests would be most undermined by sexual assault. That is to say, the studies are predicated on the idea that women have evolved to avoid being raped when they’re ovulating. The article caused quite a stir. […]

Strange, is it not, that such grievous concerns about the science of evolutionary psychology—in particular, whether its central hypotheses are falsifiable, whether reporters should be so enthusiastic in reporting its results, and whether its methods are adequate—seem to appear at some times but not others? Where were these same outraged critics, I wonder, when I wrote enthusiastically about the evolutionary psychology of humor, blushing, athletics, male body odor, suicide, and cannibalism? Yet whenever the issue at hand relates to female sexuality—whether it’s the prevention of rape or the evolution of female orgasm, the field’s most outspoken opponents turn up in droves. We do need to clear up a few misunderstandings about the science. But I would like to know what we are really, truly, talking about here. Is this a debate over quality control in a particular academic field or a battle over politics and ideology?

Yes, why would people ONLY care when he is talking about things like rape?  Why do people only care when he is saying that women are genetically able to stop rape at certain times of the month?  It’s not like rape happens all the time and that rapists and rape apologists are constantly looking for reasons to blame the victim.  Right?

This dude totally misses the point.  Totally.  He can’t seem to get that rape happens in the real world, not just in theoretical thought experiments of evolutionary psychologists.  Your data, dude, makes it easier for people to say “science” says that rape shouldn’t happen to ovulating women because they can fight back.  People make shit up ALL THE TIME to back patriarchal ideas that allow for rape apologia.  All we need is for a field that calls itself “science” to do the same.

A reader to Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic wrote this about Bering’s asshol-ish response to the uproar and, well, said what I am trying to say but better:

Bering can count on me to think that evolutionary psychology is bad science no matter what subject it’s addressing, and not useful in the least for understanding human behavior. But his purported shock at people (and by people, he certainly means women) coming out of the woodwork when he is attempting to explain vastly different experiences and behaviors of fully 50% of the population that is still oppressed in myriad ways (and has often been the victim of “scientific” explanations of difference and weakness) is ridiculous. Nobody comes yelling at him about his opining over humor or blushing, because those things don’t have any danger of being used as the next volley of pseudo-scientific justification for continuing systemic misogyny (or discrimination of any sort). Science is political, especially when it’s about people, and I’m surprised he would find that strange at all.

And rape, it happens.  All the time.  In the Peace Corps.  In the US military.  In your city, your neighborhood.  To your friends and your family, as much as to women and children in the Congo.  This is a reality for ALL women.  We walk around aware ALL THE TIME that we are potential rape victims.  Because that’s exactly what we are.


9 thoughts on “Rape in the Peace Corps

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rape in the Peace Corps « Speaker's Corner -- Topsy.com

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s so strange to me that this isn’t getting more press. How much rape and coverup does it take for a story to break into the mainstream?

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