Washington, Nov. 1 -
Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentle lady for yielding. And I appreciate the chair and the ranking member for relentlessly pushing this issue to the House floor as fast as it was possible and to the good folks down at the Senate, Senator Boxer and Senator Isakson, who are the initial sponsors of
H.R. 2337 on which we will, here today, vote on in a bipartisan way.
This legislation is bipartisan because it deals with victims of crime, American victims of crime. And victims are not a partisan bunch; they're just victims. And when someone picks out a victim to commit a crime against, partisanship doesn't play any part in it. And it's good to see that partisanship doesn't play any part in this legislation in opposing it, but it's a bipartisan piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, there's a group of Americans; they are really special people. I call them the American ambassadors abroad. They are young people. A lot of them are young females right out of college. It started with a concept that President Kennedy had many years ago, and it's called the Peace Corps, where these American angels abroad leave their homes in the 50 States and they go to remote parts of the world where many of us would have to look up on a globe or an atlas or the Internet to find out exactly where they are. We've never heard of these places. They are in third-world countries, primarily. They go out where many times the first Americans these folks have ever seen in this country are those Peace Corps volunteers that show up, and they show up for the sole purpose to make life better for these people overseas, sometimes in very small villages. They go and they work in very primitive conditions and live very difficultly, trying to do something really important to make the world a better place. And they do. They are remarkable people.
When they go overseas, as they have done for the last 50 years, and all over the world, sometimes crimes are committed against them. Sometimes they are very serious crimes. Sometimes that includes sexual assault, rape. And it occurs for a lot of reasons, but it does occur. Unfortunately, the Peace Corps back home for a long time ignored some of these crimes and some of these victims, and they just weren't treated right when they were trying to cry out, saying, Hey, this happened to me over there; take care of me when I come back home.
But now this legislation that has been very carefully drafted will fix that problem. It will move us to a direction where we are going to take care of these
Peace Corps volunteers because what they do is important. What the Peace Corps does is important. We just want to improve it so that more and more people go and join the Peace Corps, but yet they feel safe in what they do.
These crimes against our Peace Corps volunteers came to light really at the end of last year, the beginning of this year. One reason it came to light was because of an ABC “20/20” special that aired on January 14, outlining the plight of individual Peace Corps volunteers and how they were treated--first the crime, and then sometimes continuing to be criminalized. In some cases, our volunteers were treated like the criminals and they weren't treated like victims--the offender sometimes was treated like a victim of a crime--and those days need to end.
Mr. Speaker, I have been around a courthouse most of my life down in Texas as a prosecutor, as a criminal court judge, and I tried a lot of bad, serious cases. One of those cases that comes to the courthouses throughout our country is the crime of sexual assault, or rape. That is a unique crime because, you see, many times when the offender commits that crime against primarily a female, it has nothing to do with sex; it has everything to do with power and the destruction of that person's identity. These offenders in some cases try to destroy the soul of that victim, destroy their identity. And that is why, when the crime is committed, we treat those victims with special respect, as they rightfully deserve.
This legislation does that. It improves the Peace Corps. It makes it a better institution. But it tells our young people that when you go somewhere in the world to represent America, to do something good, just to do something good for somebody else with no other motive, that we are going to do everything we can to protect you, and then we are going to hold people accountable for what they do to you. And we are going to do everything we can, as Americans, to take care of you if a crime is committed against you.
In the last 10 years, Mr. Speaker, the Peace Corps has witnessed over 100 sexual assaults a year against its volunteers. That's 100 too many. We want to bring it down to zero.
As the chairman has mentioned about this legislation, it does several things:
It creates and requires the Peace Corps to follow best practices in training volunteers and responding to assaults against these young people;
Second, it creates a system of restricted and unrestricted reporting so victims have control over their own information and can report only as much as they are comfortable with; and
Third, it sets up an advisory council to help the Peace Corps develop programs. It helps the Peace Corps' sexual assault policy and implements it.
I do want to thank the 87 cosponsors in the House for signing on the legislation that I have sponsored. I do want to thank the chairman again for the legislation she has sponsored; both passed, as she said, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously in a bipartisan way.
And I do want to thank the Puzey family, sending their daughter overseas and having dealt with the murder of their own child. None of us want to ever see our children die before our time. I have got four kids. Three of them are girls. I've got nine grandkids. And as parents, we don't want to see that happen.
But their ability to come forward to tell that story and the story that others have told, Peace Corps volunteers who are here today, Jess, Karestan, Carol, and Liz, they were willing to come before the Foreign Affairs Committee and testify about what happened to them and the consequences of that. I want to thank them for being willing to be here today and also to testify.
But I also want to thank the Members of Congress for moving this as fast as we can. With all that we're doing and going on and the economy and all of this, it's important that this legislation pass today.
I do believe these young people are America's angels abroad. Sometimes because of the economy and other reasons, we forget the greatness of America. This is a great land. And one of the reasons, one of the reasons it's great is because of the people who are here. One of the reasons those people are great is because they do things for other people. They go to lands they have never been to and they do things for people they don't even know. And those are the Peace Corps volunteers.
I appreciate the time to speak on this. I hope that it passes unanimously and sends a message to those Peace Corps volunteers: We support you. We support the Peace Corps. We want it to live 50 more years, and this bill helps those American ambassadors abroad.
And that's just the way it is.