Peace Corps Sex Assault Victims Testify Before Congress


Blaming the Victim

That same sense of feeling blamed is what former Peace Corps volunteers described in the original ABC News report.

Jill Hoxmeier, who was assaulted in the South American country of Guyana in 2007, said that because of the limited counseling and support she got after she was attacked, "It was too hard to navigate by myself and so I just gave up."

Jess Smochek, who spoke to ABC News for the original report and will testify before Congress today, said she was made to feel responsible for being gang raped by a group of men in Bangladesh in 2004 because she had been walking alone shortly after 5 p.m.

"I had to list all the things that I had done wrong to cause this to happen to me," she said her counselor told her.

WATCH an interview with survivors of sexual assault.

READ full coverage of violence against women in the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps says it is not its policy to blame volunteers. The agency's current training video for volunteers, however, which has been shown to incoming volunteers within the past month, seems to do just that. In the video, three victims appear on camera to describe what they had supposedly done wrong to bring on their attackers. "I wish I had made different choices," says one of the women.

Koenen was outraged to learn of the video, calling it harmful to victims of assault.

"It's setting an example of how it shouldn't be treated," said Koenen. "It really baffles me. I feel like they're back in the 1950s in terms of treatment. People need to know that this is a chronic problem that the Peace Corps has been unable and unwilling to change."

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Koenen has expertise in the field of trauma, and not just because of her own experience two decades ago. Since leaving the Peace Corps, she has earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and has become a leading specialist in the treatment of trauma victims. She teaches at both Columbia University and Harvard.

The director of the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams, who has refused to talk with ABC News, will also appear before Congress today.

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