ABC News Investigations of the Year: Peace Corps

PHOTO: Kate PuzeyPlayCourtesy Puzey Family
WATCH Peace Corps Women Tell Stories of Assaults

In 2011, the Brian Ross Investigative Unit aired more than 200 reports on "Good Morning America," "World News with Diane Sawyer," "20/20," "Nightline," and "Brian Ross Investigates," and published almost 750 articles on the Blotter.

But seven stories among the many the investigative unit reported this past year stand out for their impact -- for the change they helped produce. Starting today, and continuing through Jan. 1, the Blotter will reprise seven different Ross Unit investigations that made a difference, from a story about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer to an undercover probe of a leading egg producer to a search for U.S. missiles that went missing during the Libyan revolution.

The Peace Corps: Trust Betrayed

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens have heeded the call to public service by joining the Peace Corps in hopes of making a difference overseas. But a ten-month investigation by ABC News exposed a series of failures by the organization to protect volunteers who fell victim to rape and sexual assault as well as whistleblowers who tried to report it.

Kate Puzey, a 24-year-old volunteer from Atlanta, Georgia, was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. The supposedly confidential email Puzey sent to her superiors had wound up in the hands of the employee's brother. Days later, Kate was dead.

In their first on-camera interviews, Kate Puzey's parents told ABC News in January about the ways in which they believed the Peace Corps had failed their daughter. Lois and Harry Puzey said they felt the agency set her up to be murdered by revealing her role in the teacher's dismissal. They also said the Peace Corps tried to keep the case quiet and was insensitive, even sending Kate's belongings home in a unceremonious FedEx box that arrived without warning in their driveway.

"It hurts us very deeply," Harry Puzey told ABC at the time.

WATCH the '20/20' report on Kate Puzey's murder.

Kate Puzey's story became the starting point for an ABC News investigation that uncovered internal Peace Corps reports documenting hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assault among volunteers. Six victims came together to speak publicly for the first time in an emotional group interview for "20/20," where they described a culture in which they were made to feel responsible for their own assaults and were offered little counseling to overcome the trauma.

READ the Investigative Unit's full coverage of the Peace Corps.

ABC News also obtained a training tape that was shown to new volunteers in which victims of sexual assault appeared on camera to describe what they had supposedly done wrong to invite attacks. The 20/20 report led even more victims to step forward for the first time, including a Harvard professor, Dr. Karestan Koenen, who told ABC News that she was "horrified" that the Peace Corps' treatment of sexual assault victims hadn't changed since her experiences 20 years ago.

Impact: Less than two weeks after the initial "20/20" broadcast in January, Congress began to look into the Peace Corps' handling of assault victims and whistleblowers. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, called for a Congressional investigation, telling ABC News he was "furious and sad" after watching the report.

A May 11 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs committee featured emotional testimony by Dr. Koenen and other women brought forward by the ABC News investigation, as well as Lois Puzey, who pleaded for the Peace Corps to do more to protect its volunteers. Aaron Williams, the director of the Peace Corps, who had refused to appear in the January "20/20" report, also testified at the hearing, where he promised to ditch the Peace Corps' controversial training tape immediately, and correct other aspects of the organization's treatment of volunteers.

"Rest assured, this type of thing, blaming the victim, will not continue in the Peace Corps of today," Williams said in his testimony.

In June, Rep. Poe and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., introduced the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act to the House and Senate. The bill was designed to require the agency to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, to protect whistleblowers, and to require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the agency serves. The bill passed both the House and the Senate without a single dissenting vote, and was signed into law by President Obama on Nov. 21.

"May this new law honor the life of the remarkable young woman, Kate Puzey, as it ensures that the courageous young men and women who serve in the Peace Corps have the protections they rightly deserve," Sen. Isakson said.

For the Kate Puzey family, the bill's passage represented a "a real closure and healing," said Lois Puzey.

"We're so gratified, and actually amazed, that it's come to fruition, that this law has passed, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely," she told ABC News. "And if something God forbid happens, that they will have the support that they need, which is what our family and what the rape survivors did not get."

Follow ABCNewsBlotter on Facebook

Follow BrianRoss on Twitter

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.