Country Director of the US Peace Corps Guyana Brannon Brewer said on Tuesday that the physical well-being and safety of the volunteers are priorities in Guyana and internationally.
The US Peace Corps constantly reviews safety measures which are in place, Brewer told Stabroek News, noting that the entire team goes to great lengths to ensure there is no violence against volunteers.
Brewer, who took up an appointment here in August last year, spoke briefly on the issue of safety with this newspaper following the report of a former Peace Corps volunteer being sexually assaulted while she was serving in this country in 2007.
Jill Hoxmeier recently told of being raped here and then being given only three counselling sessions. Hoxmeier, who was among six women who spoke with ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, said she felt abandoned by the Peace Corps.
Brewer emphasized that training and ongoing support is critical during the 27-months of service for volunteers. Specific details regarding the training cannot be released since this could compromise the security arrangements of the Corps, he noted.
Referring to Hoxmeier’s experience, he said, the team continues to work on ensuring that there are no repeat incidents. He said too that the description of her assault as aired on the ABC programme was “horrific and tragic.”
US Peace Corps volunteers are in all ten regions of Guyana working closely with communities in the areas of health and education. The service is about partnering with people and becoming part of the communities, Brewer explained, noting that eventually the volunteers and residents have the same goals and interests.
Currently 61 volunteers are working in Guyana and Brewer said that there have been no reports of violence against any member of the team since his appointment last year.
With respect to Hoxmeier feeling unsupported by the Peace Corps after her traumatic experience, he said that they were saddened and shocked to learn that she found the support services inadequate. “Certainly, in our experience, there is constantly the issue of how best we support volunteers,” he said, while adding that these systems are also subject to constant review.
Hoxmeier was riding her bike home from work when she was dragged into the bushes and sexually assaulted by a man who had been following her; she was a year into her service. She told Ross that the rapist choked her and she was unable to breathe or scream. It is unclear if the person who attacked her had been identified and charged by the police here.
Some of the other interviewees were stationed in Bangladesh, Haiti, Georgia and South Africa. The volunteer stationed in Bangladesh spoke about being groped on her first day, culminating in a brutal gang rape sometime after. She said she was sent back to Washington and was told to tell the other volunteers that she had returned for a wisdom tooth extraction. Some of the other volunteers spoke about being made to feel guilty by the Peace Corps for what had happened. They said they felt unsupported by the organization.
The programme said that around 1,000 women volunteers had been assaulted over a decade.