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Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong support of S. 1280, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. Today marks an important step towards improving the safety and security of volunteers who serve in the Peace Corps.

The Foreign Affairs Committee took up the issue of volunteer safety earlier this year after the broadcast of an extremely disturbing report on the ABC News program ``20/20.'' The segment detailed the experiences of a number of young volunteers who were sexually assaulted while serving overseas but who did not receive the care and support they needed from the Peace Corps. The show also examined the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Kate Puzey, a volunteer in the west African country of Benin who was murdered after reporting that a fellow teacher was sexually abusing some of his students.

In May we held a very useful hearing on these issues, with witnesses that included returned volunteers who were survivors of sexual assault, the Inspector General of the Peace Corps, and the Peace Corps Director. Based on the testimony we received at the hearing and in consultations with other interested parties, we drafted a bipartisan bill to improve the Peace Corps, and that legislation is reflected in the Senate bill we are taking up today.

Some of the key provisions include requiring the agency to have comprehensive policies and training for volunteers and staff on risk reduction and response; the establishment of a victim support office to focus exclusively on supporting victims of sexual assault and other crimes; and completing a Memorandum of Understanding between the Peace Corps and the State Department, clarifying security-related responsibilities.

I think it's important to point out that Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams has already taken a number of important steps to improve the support for victims of sexual assault and other crimes. For example, the Peace Corps has hired a victim's advocate, established a confidentiality policy, and started the process of rewriting and updating their sexual assault risk reduction and response policies and training.

This bill codifies some of the important measures that Director Williams has put in place to ensure that they're retained by future Directors.

On its 50th anniversary, the Peace Corps continues to perform a vital role in promoting community-based development in some of the world's poorest countries, sharing American values and enriching our own Nation by bringing knowledge of other countries and cultures back to the United States.

No agency with such a modest budget has done more than the Peace Corps to extend America's presence in nearly every part of the world, and none has enjoyed such strong bipartisan support. This comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan bill will strengthen the Peace Corps and help ensure that the agency can continue to do its important work well into the future.

I want to thank Chairman Ros-Lehtinen and Senators Boxer and Isakson and their staffs and all our staffs for working so well together on these important issues. And I particularly want to single out Congressman Poe, because without his initial thrust, I don't think we would be at this point today. I think he deserves the appreciation of the entire body and of the people who are most impacted by this legislation for his efforts and for his willingness to work with us in such a cooperative fashion.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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