After an ABC News report about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Congress has passed a bill designed to protect whistleblowers and improve the treatment of victims of violence and sexual assault.
"We're so gratified, and actually amazed, that it's come to fruition, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely," said Lois Puzey, mother of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was killed in 2009. "And if God forbid something happens, that they will have the support they need, which is what our family ... did not get."
The House passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 by unanimous consent Tuesday evening, following unanimous passage by the Senate on Sept. 26. The bill now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.
The bill is named for 24-year-old Kate Puzey of Georgia, who was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. In an investigation that aired on "20/20," ABC News told the story of Kate's murder and examined what critics say has been a "blame-the-victim" culture within the Peace Corps when volunteers are assaulted or attempt to report problems.
Lois Puzey thanked ABC News "20/20" for bringing attention to the case, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R.-Georgia, for shepherding the bill through to passage. "Just having this bill passed, this law, is going to give us a lot of healing."
Sen. Isakson and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the bill with a Capitol Hill press conference this summer. "The time has come to stand up and protect America's angels abroad", said Poe at the press conference. On the House floor Tuesday night, Rep. Poe said he hoped the bill would make volunteers feel safe "so that more and more go join the Peace Corps," and also credited ABC News with highlighting the issue of crime against Peace Corps volunteers.
"One reason it came to light was because of an ABC '20/20' special that was on January the 14th outlining the plight of individual Peace Corps volunteers and how they were treated," said Rep. Poe. "In some cases our volunteers were treated like the criminals and they weren't treated like victims. ... And those days need to end." Sen. Isakson told ABC News Tuesday that he was "overjoyed" at the bill's passage, and grateful to all who worked on the legislation.
"Kate was a remarkable young woman who unselfishly went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and was tragically murdered while helping others," said Sen. Isakson. "Kate's life will be memorialized by this new law to provide added protections, victims' rights and whistleblower status for Peace Corps volunteers. It is my sincere hope that this day might bring a small bit of comfort to the Puzey family."
The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the agency serves.