I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Peru for 3 years, 2011-2014. Although highly stereotyped Peace Corps is one of the hardest jobs you can do within the federal government that gets little of the respect it deserves. As the bastard child of the federal government its budget is roughly the same as the Naval Band.
I served during the great recession, and saw how politicized the Peace Corps budget is. It seemed perpetually on the brink of being burned from the history books. If the ultra conservative moment had its way they would deny there ever was a federal agency that worked to harbor peace and form trust between the “others” and us. Deny that thousands of Americans worked to create stronger cultural ties in an ever more intertwined world. If Trump is our president I fear our history would be forgotten and rights stripped away.
I care about our rights.
In my third year of service I was a highly specialized volunteer in Chachapoyas, Peru working to establish an early childhood education program to offer free educational and nutritional classes for mothers with children under three. Halfway through my third year I was drugged and raped in a taxi. I knew the protocols of how to report and trusted that the medical staff would be incredibly helpful and understanding but I chose not to report. Primarily because Peace Corps policy dictates if you report a violent attack in your community you are moved to a new community.
I would lose my job and all of our progress if I reported the rape. I chose to stay because I chose to believe in the good the Peruvian community; that what we were doing for the future of their children’s education was important. That our work was more valuable than the horrific actions of one individual, that the community was more important than I was in that moment.
I don’t ever think I have worked that hard to prove a sacrifice was worthy. I am proud to say that today the program is still running. But when I came home I paid dearly for the sacrifice. Stateside I began to have severe anxiety attacks. I had three therapy sessions covered by the Department of Labor within six months of my return home as an RPCV.
It was unclear how to get treatment and I was in desperate need of care. I only had 1 week left to get the therapy sessions covered so I decided to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed. I wanted to start a claim to seek long-term care and exercise my rights under the Kate Pozey Act, to lifetime medical care for conditions caused by sexual assault in service. I found someone to assist with my recovery; in my first session she diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from rape and recommended long-term psychological care.
When I went to establish my case, I realized how much red tape there is between a female RPCV and her rights. Since I didn’t report the rape while serving I had to prove the rape happened in order to be covered. My fear of repercussions prevented me from reporting in Peru, but at home I faced different equally devastating repercussions.
Fortunately I had a wonderful caseworker that held my hand through the process. As the first volunteer who did not report a rape in service but was demanding their rights I had to jump through a massive amount of hoops to prove my case. My medical records were scoured to piece together physical evidence. Two different mental health professionals had to diagnose me with PTSD. I had to ask those I told about the rape to write testimonies about what I told them as well as my psychological state.
After nearly six months of fighting I was in tears in the Peace Corps office. I felt humiliated by bureaucracy. I was being victim shamed and my right to care was on trial. It was so re-traumatizing I spiraled to rock bottom and nearly had a mental break down.
I didn’t know what it meant to fight for your rights until then. I chose to fight and not let bureaucracy victim shame me. Not let the world tell me my voice didn’t matter because I spoke up at an inconvenient time. I was willing to fight for rights I knew I had as a woman who served this country.
I cannot imagine Donald Trump to the head of the Federal Government. The thought of it hurts me deep in the core of my humanity. Donald Trump has proven he disregards women’s rights, diversity and unity in a profoundly disturbing way. He has sown seeds of discord and brought deeply rooted hatreds to center stage. It devastates me to think of what another RPCV would face. What anyone who differed from a prescribed norm would be confronted with.
If he becomes president he would be in charge of the federal agencies that dictate our access to rights. I am petrified women would struggle more than they do today to access health care. That women reporting a rape would be dehumanized by the system and rape culture would prevail.
Even those of born the “right” race, creed, gender or socio-economic class would be subject to his federal policies. He is bringing out the worst in us and is a threat to our rights as women, as Americans, as human beings.
November 8th isn’t just a vote for who you agree with more, it is a vote about the fundamental nature of who we are as Americans. Voting for Trump condones racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophoia, classism. Relegates entire groups of Americans to second-class citizens. As a woman who has fought for her rights in a devastatingly personal way, I beg you to not jeopardize our rights.
Our vote on November 8th isn't just a vote for our country but a vote for the world. A vote to show the world who we are as a democracy and what the word democracy means. A choice between forging a road to harmony or paving a path for chaos. Exercise your civic duty, vote, if we fail our democracy will fail. It is time we take our country into our own hands. We the people define the course of our nation. Let’s draw together to vote for what we know is just and right.
Let us remember the best in ourselves. Let us unite as a nation and say to the world that we are truly the land of the free, the home of the brave; we hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal.