[In case you might have missed last night's ABC News, Congress is investigating charges that as many as 1,000 former Peace Corps volunteer women were raped during their service abroad. Many of those volunteers are charging that Peace Corps officials asked them to remain quiet and cover up: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/peace-corps-congress-investigate-peace-corps-treatment-sex/story?id=12777476.]
In the wake of an ABC News “20/20″ investigation, a Congressional committee announced plans for hearings on the Peace Corps’ handling of more than a thousand cases of female volunteers who were raped or sexually assaulted over the last decade.
“This is very upsetting. If these numbers are accurate this is something that Congress definitely should investigate,” Rep. Rohrabacher, R-California, Chairman of the House subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, told ABC News.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, called for the hearing Wednesday, telling ABC News he was “furious and sad” after watching the “20/20″ report.
In the report, six former Peace Corps volunteers and victims of sexual assault recounted the attacks against them. Most of the women said within the Peace Corps there was a culture of blaming the victim, and that they felt they had no advocate in Washington to help cut through red tape to get counseling.
“The Peace Corps needs to get its act together and make sure the victims of rape have peace of mind when they are serving the United States,” Poe said.
Poe said that he will be their advocate in Washington. “The cavalry is coming,” he said.
In the letter asking for the hearing, Poe called the Peace Corps’ alleged treatment of the women “gross negligence in caring for its volunteers abroad.”
The Peace Corps did not adequately protect its volunteers, bring U.S. resources to bear on any criminal investigation, nor provide proper care for the victims in the aftermath,” Poe wrote.
Poe cited the experience of Jess Smochek of Pennsylvania, who was interviewed by ABC News as part of the 20/20 report. Smochek, now 29, joined the Peace Corps in 2004 and was sent to Bangladesh. Just four months after arriving she was gang raped. Smochek said she felt the Peace Corps tried to cover up what happened to her.
“I have three daughters about Jess’s age. They want to save the world too,” said Rep. Poe. “People like Jess are the salt of the earth and it’s just horrible our government doesn’t stand beside them.”
On Monday, Poe dedicated his daily one-minute House Floor speech to Smochek, using information he learned from the 20/20 report.
“According to ABC News,” said Poe, “over 1,000 rapes and assaults occurred in the last 10 years against American women working for the Peace Corps, but apparently no one is listening. Those days need to end, and it’s time for justice for Jess Smochek, because justice is what we do in this country. And that’s just the way it is.”