This is a story I never thought I’d be writing about as a volunteer on Lesvos. A volunteer in a humanitarian crisis, with a group organized to respond to that crisis.
This is the story of a young woman, a volunteer raped by another volunteer after a party, and treated abominably by the supposedly humanitarian organization. Forced to sit down with her rapist. Guilted and shamed and told to accept her share of the blame. Forced to work with her rapist for weeks.
Alone in a country far from home, where should she have turned for help if not to the organization she volunteered with? Silenced, she struggled with her trauma.
And what of the rapist who admitted his act? Who apologized. Did he think that would make everything alright? Did the organization think that made everything alright?
I can’t fathom what was in their minds, because as well as the additional trauma they loaded onto this young woman, their action—or inaction—put others at risk. Put other young women in the group at risk. Put the organization at risk. And most mind-boggling of all, they put the refugees at risk by continuing to send this man, this admitted rapist (although in his mind it was “only” date rape so that doesn’t count? No. All rape is violent) the organization continued to send this admitted rapist to the refugee camp to work with the most vulnerable people in the world.
They might have gotten away with their cover-up. But they pushed it too far. They put this man in a position of higher responsibility in the camp. They pushed the young victim too far. At last she spoke out.
Once public the organization responded not with an admission of stupidity and guilt and a heartfelt apology, but with vague evasions and half-truths and even lies. Some bought it. Some didn’t. some think they can help change the ethos of the organization. Some have doubts. A few have left.
But the damage is done. The victim is scarred for life, and who knows how far the ripple effects of this man’s violent action and the irresponsible and despicable actions of the organization will flow?
Farther, probably, than anyone imagines.