Rape Victim Jess Smochek Honored By Congress


The country director for the Peace Corps in Bangladesh at the time of Smochek's service, Silas Kenala, told ABC News that because he no longer is a Peace Corp employee he cannot speak about the case. "All I can tell you is that I did what was required to be done according to Peace Corps procedures," Kenala said.

Between 2000 and 2009, Peace Corps figures show there were 221 rapes or attempted rapes, 147 major sexual attacks and 719 other sexual assaults -- defined as unwanted or forced kissing, fondling or groping.

Peace Corps officials say the number of rapes has gradually declined over the decade.

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In 2010, Smochek joined forces with a group called First Response Action Coalition to advocate for a better response from the Peace Corps to incidents of physical and sexual violence. First Response Action has met with Rep. Poe and other members of Congress to press for improved safety for volunteers.

Reps. Poe and Rohrabacher Call For Hearings

In the wake of the "20/20" investigation, Rep. Poe called for a Congressional hearing, telling ABC News he was "furious and sad" after watching the "20/20" report. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, of which Poe is a member, will hold hearings next month on the Peace Corps' handling of more than a thousand cases of female volunteers who were raped or sexually assaulted over the last decade.

"This is very upsetting. If these numbers are accurate this is something that Congress definitely should investigate," Rep. Rohrabacher, R-California, chairman of the subcommittee, told ABC News.

In his letter asking for the hearing, Poe called the Peace Corps' alleged treatment of assault victims "gross negligence in caring for its volunteers abroad."

"The Peace Corps did not adequately protect its volunteers, bring U.S. resources to bear on any criminal investigation, nor provide proper care for the victims in the aftermath," Poe wrote.

"I have three daughters about Jess's age. They want to save the world too," said Rep. Poe. "People like Jess are the salt of the earth and it's just horrible our government doesn't stand beside them."

In a statement to ABC News, Peace Corps Director Williams said the agency had "made significant improvements over the past two years in providing support to sexual assault victims."

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"We look forward to working with Congress to further strengthen the Peace Corps and advance our mission of world peace and friendship," said Williams.

The Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus sponsors awards each year in conjunction with National Crime Victims' Rights Week to honor crime victims and victims' advocates. The Suzanne McDaniel Award, one of five awards to be given out by the Caucus Wednesday night, is named after a famed Texas victims' advocate.

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