A Peace Corps volunteer who spoke out on "20/20" about being gang raped while serving in Bangladesh was honored by Congress Wednesday for her work on behalf of victims.
Jess Smochek of Pennsylvania, 29, received the 2011 Suzanne McDaniel Public Awareness Award from the bipartisan Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus at a Capitol Hill ceremony attended by members of Congress and victims advocates. After she was attacked, Smochek helped raise awareness of sexual assaults on Peace Corps volunteers and what she and other advocates consider the Corps' lack of support for victims.
"Thanks to the courage and determination of Jessica Smochek," said Rep. Ted Poe, R.-Texas, co-chair of the Caucus, "the mistreatment of victims of violence and the inadequate response from the Peace Corps has captured the attention of the nation" Rep. Poe, who hosted Wednesday's event along with Caucus co-chair Rep. Jim Costa, D.-California, called Smochek's advocacy on behalf of victims "inspiring" and said that because of her Congress will have hearings next month "to hold the Peace Corps accountable" for the safety of volunteers.
Smochek told ABC News it was "incredibly humbling" to be recognized by the Victims' Rights Caucus. "They are my heroes, both for the work they've done for so many vulnerable populations and for the work I believe some of them are doing even now to help make sure my story won't have to be retold by future Peace Corps Volunteers."
Smochek was attacked while serving as a volunteer in Bangladesh in 2004. She says that a group of men began to stalk her from the very first day she arrived in the city where she was assigned. The men tried to kiss her and touch her, and ultimately gang raped her.
"They all took turns raping me," she told ABC News. "They raped me with their bodies. They raped me with foreign objects."
Smochek told ABC News about the attack in a joint interview with five other former volunteers who also were rape or sexual assault victims.
CLICK HERE to watch Brian Ross interview the sexual assault victims.
The gang rape occurred, she says, after Peace Corps officials in Bangladesh ignored her pleas to be relocated.
"Every day we felt unsafe. And we reported everything, we just kept reporting," she said.
She says the gang rape took place just hours after a Peace Corps safety official filed a report with the local police but again ignored her pleas for re-assignment. She says the young men knew she had complained to the police.
"They slammed me against the wall and just started threatening me, they're calling me a filthy American whore," she said. "'We told you to stop going to the police. And now we have to kill you.'" Smochek was left unconscious in a back alley.
Smochek says that after the attack, the Peace Corps immediately began to cover up what had happened -- fearful, she says, of offending officials in Bangladesh. She was sent back to the U.S.
"When the decision was made that I was to go to Washington, D.C., I was told to tell volunteers that I was having my wisdom teeth out," Smochek says.
At the time of the original "20/20" report, Peace Corps deputy director Carrie Hessler-Radelet denied the Peace Corps had attempted to cover up or keep quiet rapes and sexual assaults.
"This is the first I've heard of any report of that nature," she said.