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Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FARR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act. I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, steadfast Peace Corps champion, and original cosponsor of the House version of this legislation. Kate Puzey was an intelligent, brave young woman from Georgia who was tragically murdered while serving in the Peace Corps in Benin. I was privileged to speak with Kate's family about what a remarkable person Kate was, and I am deeply inspired by the Puzey family's commitment to turn unspeakable heartbreak into important action to ensure that what happened to Kate never, ever happens again. Kate truly represented the best of what Peace Corps can be and this legislation in her honor ensures that all Volunteers will get the best possible protections and training.

I was very troubled to hear the stories of other Volunteers who have received insufficient or insensitive support during their Peace Corps service. Earlier this year, I spoke with two courageous returned Volunteers, Karestan Koenen and Jessica Smochek, and learned about their traumatic experiences of rape and sexual assault while serving in the Peace Corps and the inadequate assistance they received afterward. These two women, like every Volunteer, deserve the best possible support, and I commend them and the other returned Volunteer victims who have bravely come forward and shared their stories. Like the Puzey family, the trauma these individuals have suffered is unimaginable, but their actions have already helped to make Peace Corps a stronger agency.

I applaud Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams for taking immediate action to reform the agency's commitment to safety, sexual assault prevention and response, and security. Director Williams has worked closely with the Puzey family, returned Volunteers, and experts in victims' rights to develop new policies and strengthen existing ones to enhance the support and safety of Volunteers. These reforms include appointing the agency's first Victim Advocate, implementing a new Volunteer and staff sexual assault training, and signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to collaborate on sexual assault prevention. Peace Corps has also created a Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Panel which provides advice and input on sexual assault risk reduction and response strategies. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act both codifies and compliments the important reforms that Director Williams has put in place so that the next generation of Volunteers like Kate, Karestan, and Jessica will have the safety protections; compassionate, informed support; and necessary resources they deserve.

Mr. Speaker, Peace Corps Volunteers represent the best of what America has to offer and it is only right that America offers them the best. I thank the Puzey family, Karestan, Jessica, and all the returned Volunteers and advocates who have committed themselves to making Peace Corps a better, stronger agency. The efforts of their work will forever benefit future generations of Peace Corps Volunteers.

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