Congress Addresses Rape in Peace Corps

Citing news reports of the Peace Corps’ poor treatment of victims of sexual assault, as well as steps the organization has committed to implementing to improve its response, members of Congress last week introduced the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) with Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), would require changes to the organization’s training and response to sexual assault, increase protections for volunteers serving their country abroad, and institutionalize improvements begun this year by the Peace Corps. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Senate version of the bill.

“This bill makes common-sense changes while institutionalizing improvements the Peace Corps has started to make. By law, leadership of the Peace Corps changes every five years. By legislating improved policies, we’ll ensure that they will be permanent,” said Jennifer Wilson Marsh, RAINN’s hotline and affiliate director, who recently testified to Congress on this issue. In her testimony, Marsh outlined best practices, recommended confidentiality protections, and proposed having more trained victim advocates in place to help after an assault.

Since entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Peace Corps in March, RAINN has made recommendations on how the Peace Corps’ training can better prepare volunteers for risks that may exist in country, highlighting cultural elements, gender roles, and information on local laws and reporting policies. RAINN has also recommended that the Peace Corp implement Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs), and train additional victims advocates.

“The time has come to stand up and protect America’s angels abroad”, said Rep. Poe. “Peace Corps volunteers are ambassadors of the United States who spend their lives helping others who are less fortunate all over the world. These precious people are dedicated to taking care of others; now it is time to make sure that they are taken care of. The United States must act now to protect these young volunteers and respond to the needs of victims of violent crime no matter where they are in the world. I am hopeful that this legislation will facilitate important and immediate changes in the Peace Corps to make it an even better institution.”

At a press conference announcing the legislation, Sen. Isakson said, “Today is a very special day. I am deeply honored to introduce legislation in honor of Kate Puzey, a great young American who went to Africa to teach children and serve those in need. The sacrifice of Kate Puzey’s life demands that we provide every Peace Corps volunteer with the security and protection necessary to carry out their job. I believe that this legislation will go long way in achieving this goal.” Puzey is a Peace Corps volunteer who was murdered while serving in Benin.

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