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Mr. Speaker, we have a group of people in the United States who are all volunteers that I call the American Angels Abroad. They are those thousands of Peace Corps volunteers throughout the world that are helping Third World countries in many different ways. They go to remote areas of the world, far from home, far from their families. They work in very primitive conditions. Yet there are those angels that are trying to help other people throughout the world, and they are called the Peace Corps volunteers.
The Peace Corps started as an idea of President Kennedy back in 1960 when he spoke to the University of Michigan and encouraged those students to volunteer to help America abroad. Finally, in 1961 he started the Peace Corps. Since then, over 200,000 Americans, mainly young people, mainly females, have volunteered to go around the world representing the United States.
It is very hard work being a Peace Corps volunteer. They deal with issues that most Americans never deal with. Just simple basic necessities such as of electricity and water and matters such as that, they do without, or they are difficult to find in the remote areas where they are because they are helping other people that don't have those things we have in the United States. Generally, they work alone when they are in foreign countries.
But all is not well with the Peace Corps, Mr. Speaker, because during the time since President Kennedy started the Peace Corps and those wonderful people go overseas, many times those volunteers, those young Americans, become victims of crime in these foreign countries; and when they become victims of crime, in some cases our own country abandons them.
Between 2000 and 2009, the Peace Corps itself says there were over 221 rapes and attempted rapes, almost 150 major sexual attacks and 700 other sexual assaults. That is 1,000 crimes against American Peace Corps volunteers. Recently, the Peace Corps has announced that there is an average of 22 rapes a year against American Peace Corps volunteers somewhere in another country.
This is not acceptable, Mr. Speaker. We are talking about real people. They are real stories and they are real victims.
I would like to mention just one of those persons that I know personally. I have got to know Jess Smochek since this crime against her has occurred. She joined the Peace Corps in 2004. On her first day as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh, a group of men started sexually groping her as she was walking to the house that she was to live in. But no one in the Peace Corps did anything about this assault. She told the Peace Corps staff over and over again that she felt unsafe in Bangladesh and the situation she was in, but the Peace Corps didn't do anything.
Months later, she came in contact with the same men, who then kidnapped her. They beat her. They sexually assaulted her. But they weren't through. They abandoned her and threw her in an alley somewhere in Bangladesh. And no one did anything.
According to Jess, the Peace Corps did everything they could to cover this up because they seemed to be more worried about America's relationship with Bangladesh than they were about this American volunteer that was assaulted, a victim of crime. Jess says that the Peace Corps not only didn't do anything, they blamed her for the conduct of others. They blamed her for being a sexual assault victim.
Mr. Speaker, a rape victim is never to be blamed for the crime that is committed against her. It is the fault of the criminal offender, whether it occurs in the United States or abroad. We need to understand that these precious people who go overseas and represent us somewhere in the world, when a crime is committed against them, we need to take their side. We need to be supportive of those individuals. And we don't assume they did anything wrong, because they did not do anything wrong when they became a victim of crime. They were just victims of crime, and the person that should be held accountable is the criminal, and not to blame the victim.
Mr. Speaker, rape is never the fault of the victim. It is always the fault of the perpetrator.
But Jess got no satisfaction from the Peace Corps. No one did anything. When she got home, she was told to tell other people that she was coming back to the United States for medical reasons, to have her wisdom teeth pulled, not for the sexual assault that was committed against her.
This was Jess's case. A few others were brought to light recently by ABC News and 20/20. And now, more and more of these Peace Corps volunteers over the years are coming forward and telling us about their stories. Mainly, they are women. We recently had a hearing in Foreign Affairs about this situation. Their stories were heart-wrenching. So now it's time to pass legislation to protect these women and to give them basic victim services, and that is what we will be doing in the next few days, along with the Senate.
Mr. Speaker, people cry, Peace, peace, but there can be no peace for American angels abroad until they are treated with the dignity that they deserve and the support of the United States. We need to help the Peace Corps readjust itself to become a better institution.
And that's just the way it is.
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