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Sexual Assault in the Peace Corps

Elayne Weiss,
Washington Legislative Office
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June 30, 2011

This month Congress took an important step to address sexual violence in the Peace Corps. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Protection Act, named after a volunteer who was murdered while serving in Benin, would require the Peace Corps to provide sexual assault risk-reduction and response training, employ victim advocates, develop sexual assault guidelines and establish a Sexual Assault Advisory Council.

Just last month, Congress held a hearing in which former Peace Corps volunteers testified about their harrowing experiences of being sexually assaulted during their service, and the blame-the-victim mentality that pervaded the responses they received from Peace Corp’s management.

Peace Corps director Aaron Williams expressed support for the efforts of Congress, stating: “The safety and security of our volunteers is Peace Corps’ top priority.The Peace Corps welcomes the work of Congress on this important issue and looks forward to continuing our joint efforts to improve our response to sexual assaults and other crimes.”

Thankfully, Congress is following through on this issue, and already the legislation has gained bipartisan support. It was introduced this week by Sens. John Isakson (R-Ga.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Earlier this month, a companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

Former volunteers, who are survivors of sexual assault, have been heartened by the introduction of this bill.It is encouraging to see that the health and safety of Peace Corps volunteers has risen above the political bickering that too often puts women’s health at risk.

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