The Brian Ross Investigative Unit received a George Foster Peabody Award on Monday for a year-long investigation of the murder of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, and of an alleged "blame the victim" culture within the Peace Corps in which whistleblowers were not protected and women were made to feel responsible for being sexually assaulted.
ABC News Chief of Investigative Projects Rhonda Schwartz accepted the award on behalf of Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, Producer Anna Schecter and the investigative team at the 71st Annual Peabody Awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
"The Brian Ross Investigative team is honored to receive this Peabody award for excellence," Schwartz said. "It's especially fitting to receive this award for a story focused on an idealistic young woman, Kate Puzey, a Peace Corps volunteer striving for excellence, out to change the world, who was brutally murdered in West Africa when she tried to expose serious problems inside the Peace Corps."
"We'd like to thank the Puzey family for their incredible generosity in sharing their daughter's story with us, and thank '20/20' Executive Producer David Sloan and ABC News President Ben Sherwood for allowing us to share it with the world," Schwartz said. WATCH the '20/20' Report Here, Here, and Here.
Puzey, a 24-year-old volunteer from Atlanta, Georgia, was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. The supposedly confidential email Puzey sent to her superiors wound up in the hands of the employee's brother. Days later, Kate was dead.
In their first on-camera interview, Puzey's parents told ABC News about the ways in which they believed the Peace Corps had failed their daughter. Lois and Harry Puzey said they felt the agency set her up to be murdered by revealing her role in the teacher's dismissal.
Puzey's story became the starting point for a year-long investigation that uncovered internal Peace Corps reports documenting hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assault among volunteers. Six victims came together to speak publicly for the first time in an emotional group interview for "20/20," where they described a "blame the victim" culture in which they were made to feel responsible for their own assaults and were offered little counseling to overcome the trauma.
The January 2011 "20/20" report prompted even more victims to step forward for the first time, including a Harvard professor, Dr. Karestan Koenen, who told ABC News that she was "horrified" that the Peace Corps' treatment of sexual assault victims hadn't changed since her experiences 20 years ago.
The "20/20" report and 20 on-line follow-up stories spurred a Congressional investigation and eventually led to the unanimous passage of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act. The new law, signed by President Obama in November 2011, requires the Peace Corps to protect whistleblowers, hire victims' advocates, and improve the training of volunteers to reduce the risk of sexual assault.
In addition to the Peabody Award, Ross and his team have won the George Polk Award, the Sigma Delta Chi award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors award for the Peace Corps investigation, among others. The investigation was also a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
The Peabody Award, like the other awards, specifically recognizes the contributions of Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, Chief of Investigative Projects Rhonda Schwartz, "20/20" Executive Producer David Sloan, Producer Anna Schecter, Field Producer Angela M. Hill, Managing Editor Mark Schone, Cameraman Craig Matthew and editors Tom Marcyes and Jack Pyle.