Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams was forced to sit in the hot seat before Congress this week at a hearing spurred by an ABC News investigation into what critics and rape survivors call the Peace Corps' culture of blaming the victims of sexual assault.
This week's edition of "Brian Ross Investigates" updates the original "20/20" report with new victim interviews, testimony before Congress and a public vow by the Peace Corps' top official to change the way the organization treats women who are sexually assaulted while serving around the globe as volunteers. The Congressman who called for Wednesday's hearing has also proposed new legislation that would mandate reform within the Peace Corps.
Williams had repeatedly declined to speak to ABC News leading up to and following the original "20/20" report, which aired in January. On Wednesday he apologized to victims while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "Rest assured, this type of thing, blaming the victim, will not continue in the Peace Corps of today," said Williams.
Among those who testified on the Hill Wednesday was former volunteer Jess Smochek, who first told her story on 20/20. Smochek told "Brian Ross Investigates" that going public with the circumstances of her gang rape in Bangladesh in 2004, first to ABC News and then before Congress, has made her feel "a lot stronger." "It has brought out an inner strength in me that I didn't really have since the Peace Corps and since what happened," said Smochek.
Smochek said that after she was assaulted, she was told by Peace Corps officials to keep it a secret, and then blamed by officials in Bangladesh and in D.C. for bringing on the attack.
Smochek told "Brian Ross Investigates" she has taken on an activist role to fight for Peace Corps reform since going public on "20/20."
Smochek says she feels the hearing was an excellent start to reforming the Peace Corps, but that given the frequent turnover of staff -- five years is the maximum term for any position in the organization -- there is no way to ensure change without a mandate by law.
"Legislation is the only way we can ensure that the Peace Corps is held accountable," said Smochek.
Rep.Ted Poe, R-Texas, who originally called for the hearing after watching the 20/20 report, has already drafted a new Peace Corps reform bill. The legislation would mandate comprehensive and up-to-date training of volunteers and staff on sexual assault prevention, and streamline sexual assault response protocols at programs around the world. Poe is expected to formally introduce the bill this month.