Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps is acclaimed for its dedication to international cultural exchange and enlightenment, and its pledge to “promote world peace and friendship.” However, just as any other institution, the Peace Corps has its own legendary controversies and scandals.
Margery Michelmore Post Card Incident
Margery Jane Michelmore gained fame in1961 while serving in Nigeria when a post card she had written to her boyfriend in the States, but not mailed, was found and read. In it she wrote: “we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush.” Her sentiments caused temporary international unrest, and prompted enraged Nigerians to speculate that the American volunteers were “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.”
The Deborah Gardner Murder
In 1976 Deborah Gardner, serving in Tonga, was stabbed to death by fellow Peace Corps volunteer Dennis Priven. Priven was examined by a psychiatrist, was found not guilty on grounds of mental instability, and was acquitted of the murder charges. On returning to the States, however, he was again examined by a psychiatrist and certified as mentally stable. Due to the ruling in Tonga, despite the new findings, he remains a free man.
Rape and Sexual Assault Charges
In 2009, while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, Casey Frazee was sexually assaulted by a member of her host family. She was disturbed to discover that the Peace Corps offered her, and other women in similar predicaments serving in the Peace Corps, little aid or support. Frazee has since formed a support group for women who have been sexually abused while serving in the Peace Corps, called Response Action.
Over 1,000 women have reported being raped or sexually assaulted while serving in the Peace Corps.
Embassy Spy Scandal
In 2007 Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar serving in Bolivia were asked to “basically spy” on Cubans and Venezuelans by a U.S. Embassy official. The three Peace Corps volunteers testified that an embassy security officer, while briefing them regarding security issues, casually remarked that the embassy was aware of Cubans and Venezuelans in the vicinity, and said that the volunteers should keep tabs on these people for their own safety, and report on them to the embassy.
The State Department clarified that the procedure was not customary and was in violation of U.S. policy.
Natalie Waldinger Death
In 2001 Peace Corps volunteer Natalie Waldinger was trampled to death by an enraged elephant. Waldinger had stopped in a Tanzanian national park and had stepped out of her car to photograph the wild animal, which became incited by the clicking of her camera and charged her.