RPCV Legislative Victory – Equity Act

For female volunteers, one of the major risks of service is sexual assault and rape. Up until recently, volunteers who were raped and became pregnant had to pay for their own abortions if that is what they chose. This was unique to Peace Corps as military service members did not have to self-fund their own reproductive health in such horrible circumstances.

In December 2014, language to correct this imbalance was included in the appropriations bill:

Tuesday night, as President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill to fund most of the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, one very small component of the bill means fairer treatment for female Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).

Included in the Peace Corps section of the 1,600 page spending package is corrective language that will implement the provisions of the Peace Corps Equity Act (S. 2291; H.R. 4578). The legislation was designed to support PCVs the same as others serving our nation overseas, should a Volunteer seek to terminate a pregnancy in the rare instances of rape, incest or life endangerment.

One of my former students at UT was one of the primary advocates who led the charge. She’s pictured on the left in the photo above. Christine had served in Peru when she was raped by someone in her service site, who passed on a STD to her and left her pregnant. The story is pretty horrifying.Cristine and I had talked at length about Peace Corps in the lead up to her application so I’m it’s just horrible that she had endure this episode and another sexual assault in her all to brief service in Peru. She left service early because of these ordeals, recounted in this story in Salon:

As she processed her feelings and started the counseling process, she was clear on one thing. “I was very adamant from the beginning that I was going to not go through the pregnancy. I wanted it over with. I wanted it done.” That’s when she was told that when it came to the abortion, she would mostly be on her own.

“I was frustrated by it but it didn’t really shock me, considering the politics of abortion,” she says. She didn’t want to tell her parents (she since has). Her brother, though he drove down from North Carolina, didn’t have much disposable income as a graduate student. But a Peace Corps volunteer who came to stay with her and provide her company before her medical evaluation told his mother back home about the rape.

For the past two years, Christine and other RPCVs and NPCA have been telling their stories and trying to get Congress to change the law:

For the past two years, the National Peace Corps Association, its members, supporters and others have been actively engaged with lawmakers to point out the basic unfairness and urge that Volunteers be supported the same as others. The Peace Corps agency and the Obama administration also strongly advocated for this change.

While the Senate in recent years has promoted this fix, 2014 marked the first time the House Appropriations Committee also agreed on language to address this issue.

I’m glad that Christine was able to turn her ordeal in to a positive policy achievement, though of course, the larger challenge is to change men’s attitudes towards women in these societies, a much more difficult problem.

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