Peace Corps volunteers are telling Congress this week of being raped while serving overseas and then coming home to a hostile bureaucracy that effectively blamed them for what happened, The New York Times
reports. A hearing today aimed to investigate allegations that the Peace Corps mishandled and shunted aside sexual assault complaints, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“These women are alone in many cases, and they’re in rough parts of the world,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who is sponsoring a bill to reform how the 50-year-old organization treats rape victims among its volunteers.
An average of 22 women a year reported rapes or attempted rapes from 2000 to 2009, according to the Peace Corps' own figures. Experts say many cases go unreported out of fear or shame. Women who did complain alleged that Peace Corps counselors all but accused them of encouraging their attackers, especially if they said they had been drinking alcohol when the assaults occurred.
The Peace Corps, which President John F. Kennedy founded to promote global outreach and U.S. goodwill abroad, has 8,655 overseas volunteers and trainees, male and female, ranging in age from 21 to 86.
The plight of rape victims in the Peace Corps went largely unreported until some affected volunteers began speaking out and using social media to connect with other victims. One, Casey Freeze, formed an advocacy group called First Response Action that has lobbied the Peace Corps to make changes in its training videos and counseling programs.
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