Critics Give Peace Corps a 'C' on Sex Assault Response

PHOTO: Kate Puzey
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More than a year and a half since a law was passed to protect Peace Corps whistleblowers and improve the treatment of its volunteers who fall victim to violence and sexual assault while serving abroad, a new report claims that the Peace Corps has made progress but has not yet met the standards set in the law.

The report, issued this week by First Response Action, a victims' advocacy group that played a large part in applying pressure to the government to reform the agency, assigned an overall "C" letter grade for the implementation of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in November 2011 after being passed unanimously by Congress.

The law requires that the Peace Corps improves the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, trains staff on treatment of victims, protects whistleblowers, establishes an Office of Victim Advocacy and designates a Sexual Assault Response Liaison (SARL) for each country in which the agency serves.

In its report, FRA wrote that the group "applauds Peace Corps' progress in a few key areas" but that "the reality remains, however, that the agency has a significant amount of work left to implement the Kate Puzey Act and must act with far greater urgency."

However, according to Peace Corps spokeswoman Shira Kramer, the agency has developed a Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program that "not only meets but exceeds the requirements of the legislation."

"Peace Corps has worked with leading experts to develop a comprehensive Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response program, which includes more than 30 policy changes; extensive sexual assault risk reduction and response training for both volunteers and staff; and new, clearly defined procedures for mitigating and responding to sexual assault – all of which encourage volunteers to report incidents to the agency and seek our support," Kramer told ABC News.

Kramer said that on September 1, "critical elements" of that program will go into effect and that the Peace Corps will "near full implementation" of the Puzey Act.

Kramer also told ABC News that in the time since the law was enacted, the Peace Corps has been doing its "due diligence" by consulting with top experts from the field and collaborating with groups like the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network as it works to implement the law.

"It's important that what we're implementing is effective and incorporates the best practices from these top experts to make sure that it's impactful," Kramer said.

The Kate Puzey Act was named for a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from 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" in January 2011, 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.

FULL COVERAGE: Peace Corps, a Trust Betrayed

More than two years since Puzey's death, however, the FRA report says Peace Corps has "moved very slowly in creating a new whistleblower protection program."

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