Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out on RapeBy SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: May 10, 2011
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LinkedinDiggMySpacePermalink. WASHINGTON — Jess Smochek arrived in Bangladesh in 2004 as a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer with dreams of teaching English and “helping the world.” She left six weeks later a rape victim after being brutalized in an alley by a knife-wielding gang.
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Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times
Jess Smochek, who was raped in Bangladesh in 2004, advocates for former Peace Corps volunteers who were sexually assaulted.
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“We want the United States to rush in and treat them as a victim of crime like they would be treated here at home.”
Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps has 8,655 volunteers and trainees, as young as 21 and as old as 86, serving in 77 countries. For most, service is, as the agency’s Web site boasts, “a life-defining leadership experience.”
But from 2000 to 2009, on average, 22 Peace Corps women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape, the agency says. During that time, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes. Because sexual crimes often go unreported, experts say the incidence is likely to be higher, though they and the Peace Corps add that it is difficult to assess whether the volunteers face any greater risk overseas than women in the United States do.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will convene a hearing to examine what its chairwoman, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, called “serious crimes” committed against Peace Corps volunteers, including murder; in announcing the hearing, her office cited reports of “gross mismanagement of sexual assault complaints.”
Lois Puzey, whose daughter Kate was murdered in 2009 while posted in Benin, will testify. So will Ms. Smochek, now a board member of First Response Action, a fledgling advocacy group founded by another former...