Abortion Or Quit: Raped Peace Corps Volunteer Forced To Choose

Carol Clark says after rape she was forced to have an abortion or go home.

May 05, 2011, 3:56 PM

May 10, 2011 — -- A Peace Corps volunteer who says she became pregnant after a Peace Corps employee raped her alleges that Peace Corps officials forced her to make a choice: get an abortion or quit the organization.

"I was not pro-choice until that moment," said Carol Clark, now a schoolteacher in North Carolina, who says she was devastated that the organization she trusted treated her so callously.

Clark says she has come forward to tell her story after more than 25 years because of an ABC News "20/20" report about former Peace Corps volunteers who allege that they were mistreated by the Peace Corps after they were victims of sexual assault while serving overseas.

WATCH Part One of the "20/20" report

WATCH Part Two of the "20/20" report

WATCH Part Three of the "20/20" report

"When I saw the young women speaking about the callous way the Peace Corps treated them, I was stunned this was still happening today," Clark told ABC News. "I never dreamed I would tell my story, but I don't want five, 10, 15 years to go by and still hear about this." Clark and other sexual assault victims will testify before Congress at a hearing Wednesday to probe what critics call an inadequate response to violence against Peace Corps volunteers.

Clark was an idealistic 22-year-old from a devout Christian family when she went to serve in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1984. "It was my life dream to be in the Peace Corps, my life goal to help others," she said.

Clark said she was raped by a Peace Corps employee just three months after she arrived in the country, and just one week after swearing in as a fully trained volunteer.

She recounted how the man allegedly came into her hotel room and raped her when she was physically incapable of fighting him off after a night of drinking at a party for Peace Corps volunteers and staff.

"I could not bear that feeling that this monster was raping me, there was such a sense of horror attached to it," said Clark. Clark said she reported the assault to a Peace Corps medical officer, but was brushed aside and told that since it happened after a raucous party, it was her fault.

Rape Leaves Clark Pregnant

Clark said the nightmare continued when she learned she was pregnant a little over a month later. When she reported this to two Peace Corps officials, she said they told her she either had to have an abortion or leave the organization.

"They gave me a pen and paper and told me to write down the pros and cons and give them an answer," said Clark, adding that she was given under an hour to make the decision. "I felt like I was a problem they didn't want to deal with."

Clark, whose family told her she was not welcome back home if she was pregnant, said she felt she had to throw a "whole set of ideals" she was raised with out the window.

"I would not have been able to endure -- to cope [if I continued the pregnancy]," she said.

Clark decided to have the abortion and said the Peace Corps flew her to Honolulu for the procedure, but would not pay for the abortion. Instead she said her closest friend's parents funded the procedure. A Peace Corps spokesperson confirmed that the organization is not permitted to pay for abortions.

Clark returned to her village in Nepal in February 1985. The employee who raped her was still working in Nepal. When she asked to be moved away from him, she said she was forced to confront him about the alleged rape in front of another person as a condition of being relocated.

"I fled the room -- it was so overwhelming," she said. "I had to get out of that room."

Clark was ultimately relocated. But word had spread that she had had "sex" with the Peace Corps employee, and she says men began to harass her.

She said a government official tried to drag her back to his home "to have fun like you had with your Peace Corps friend," but she escaped.

A Second Rape

Two weeks after that incident, however, she says she did not get away.

According to Clark, another government official cornered her at the complex where she worked.

"He repeatedly pounded my head against the wall and choked me. I was afraid of dying and decided to stop fighting," said Clark.

She said he handed her a used, torn condom and forced her to put it on him.

"All I could think of was whose germs, whose bodily fluids, were on there," she said. "When he began raping me, I couldn't bear it and began fighting again. He told me that I might as well enjoy it because I would never leave my village alive. I thought I was going to die."

Clark said she was able to get to her room and lock the door. When her attacker left, she managed to travel several hours to the capital of Kathmandu to get to the doctor. She said she reported the rape to the medical officer, who said he was "too frustrated to deal with her" and that she hadn't learned her lesson from the first time about how to keep herself safe.

Clark said she was then told she would be flown to Washington, D.C., where a decision would be made as to how she would separate from the Peace Corps. She also said she was instructed to tell other volunteers she was being medically evacuated for dysentery.

Once in D.C., Clark said she was put up in a hotel with other volunteer victims of rape and sexual assault. Karestan Koenan, a Peace Corps volunteer who was raped in Niger in 1991, told ABC News a similar story about finding herself in a Washington hotel with other female volunteers who had come back to the U.S. after being assaulted.

READ an interview with Karestan Koenen

WATCH an interview with Karestan Koenen

The following day, Clark said, she went to an appointment with a Peace Corps counselor who told her to list what she had done to put herself in danger and what she could have done to prevent the rape. Clark was late to the appointment, and said the counselor suggested that her tardiness was a sign of her irresponsible nature.

Clark says she was overwhelmed with frustration that she was blamed for the rapes by the organization she had respected so much, and that the blame still stings now thirty years later.

"I was really devastated. This was the organization that I respected so highly. I idealized their message," said Clark. "I did not cause myself to be raped. I did not cause myself to become pregnant. Peace Corps never gave me that acknowledgment and they still haven't," she said.

Clark said that after the first rape, the Peace Corps employee who raped her was told he could resign or be fired for "dereliction of duty." To her knowledge, the man always maintained he was innocent of rape.

The Peace Corps Responds

A Peace Corps spokesperson said the organization declined to comment on the specific details of Clark's case in order to protect her privacy, but said the victims of sexual assault deserve nothing but compassion and support.

"The Peace Corps is united in our efforts with returned volunteers, outside organizations, and leaders in the field of sexual assault awareness to strengthen our global operations and support for the thousands of volunteers serving around the world," said the spokesperson.

"We apologize for any additional pain the agency inflicted on our volunteers. The Peace Corps of today takes the issue of sexual assault prevention and response seriously and we are dedicated to providing compassionate victim-centered care."

The spokesperson also said that "blaming any victim of crime is not tolerated. Under Director Aaron Williams' leadership, the agency has implemented a number of measures to expand our ability and commitment to prevent and respond to sexual assaults."

The Peace Corps spokesperson said it is not policy to force a woman to choose to have an abortion or leave the organization. "We do not counsel volunteers that they must choose to terminate a pregnancy or go home," said the spokesperson. "That is not acceptable. "

"As part of our pregnancy counseling, we work with the volunteer to make the decision that is most comfortable for them," said the spokesperson, citing Peace Corps policy. "However, we cannot guarantee adequate pregnancy care for Volunteers beyond their first trimester and in many malaria prone countries we encourage Volunteers to return to the U.S. immediately to protect their health."

The spokesperson added that if a volunteer becomes pregnant during service, the organization will pay for pre-natal care for as long as she is in service, and for the remainder of pre-natal care and the birth through the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.

According to Peace Corps policy, however, a volunteer who chooses to continue her pregnancy can be "medically separated" by the Peace Corps if adequate medical care is not available where she is stationed.

"If a Volunteer chooses to terminate her pregnancy," said the spokesperson, "we pay for pregnancy counseling, related health expenses, and travel. However, we are not authorized to pay for the abortion procedure for any reason. There is no exception, even for the life of the mother, incest, or rape."

The spokesperson said the current policy on pregnancy has been in place "since the early '80s."The Peace Corps has also created a Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) which is in the process of completing a comprehensive sexual assault and rape prevention and response program, and has been working with experts across the federal government in addition to national advocacy groups, according to the Peace Corps.

A Peace Corps spokesperson said the organization will never be able to eliminate volunteers' exposure to crimes overseas, but that it "will continue to do its best to make Peace Corps a safe and productive experience for the Americans serving today and the future."

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