Jan. 18, 2011 — -- Viewers responded to ABC News' "20/20" investigation of the murder and rape of female volunteers in the Peace Corps with an outpouring of grief and anger – but also with heartfelt defenses of the Peace Corps – on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the strongest reactions came from volunteers themselves, both those who've returned from their service around the world and those still in the field.
On the Peace Corps Facebook page, John Hand wrote that he "had a great experience in the Peace Corps and I agree, of course, that most staff and administrators are dedicated, compassionate and intelligent."
But, "None of these generalities," wrote Hand, "in my mind excuses or explains what we saw and heard on 20/20. The 'cover-up' mentality demonstrated there is shocking to me."
ABC News reported on the murder of Kate Puzey, whose body was found in Benin in 2009 shortly after she urged her country director to dismiss a Peace Corps employee that she knew, according to her family and friends, had raped students at the school where she taught. The Peace Corps employee who was dismissed after Puzey's complaint, Constant Bio, is being held as the prime suspect in her murder but maintains his innocence.
Puzey's family told ABC News they felt the Peace Corps had helped cause her death because her name was leaked in connection with the complaint about Bio. Puzey's parents also said the Peace Corps did not help them find out more about what happened to their daughter in the months after her death.
As part of the report, Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross also talked to a half dozen female volunteers who said that after they were sexually assaulted the Peace Corps response was incompetent and insensitive.
Viewers said they were "heartbroken" and expressed "disgust" and blasted the Peace Corps "terrible" response to the murder and rape of its volunteers. Via Twitter, Phyllie417 said the report " breaks down every perception I had about the peace corps," while TipMose complained that while the Peace Corps was promoting safety and justice around the world it wasn't doing the same for its own volunteers. Others said the Peace Corps had made matters worse with its insensitivity.
"Does the Peace Corps value its reputation over its volunteers?" asked Linda Lambeck on the Peace Corps Facebook page.
"You failed those women and their families," wrote Eunice Park on Facebook. "You [have] coldly turned your backs on those who were raped or murdered."
Peace Corps Veterans: Story 'Pained Us Deeply'
The most poignant responses came from Peace Corps veterans trying to square Kate Puzey's story, and the stories of sexual assault, with their own love for the organization.
Peace Corps Connect, an organization for returned Peace Corps Volunteers, took to Twitter to say the report had "pained us deeply" and call the women who spoke about their experiences on "20/20", and the volunteers who've lost their lives in service "heroes helping not just our country, but [the] world."
Sara Dougherty tweeted that she hoped "peacecorps will learn from 2020 ... Need to embrace a culture of openness & honesty & know when to say sry."
"I felt safe in Peace Corps," tweeted Laugh2Survive, "but knew firsthand of a number of other volunteers w/cause to be afraid & were not helped when they told [Peace Corps]."
"I loved Peace Corps and wld do it again," tweeted Ms Mela, "but this is unforgiveable."
But the ABC News report also spurred strong defenses from current and former Peace Corps volunteers.
Alyssa Moles, a former volunteer in Chad, said she was angry about the lack of positive perspectives in the ABC News report. She wrote on Twitter that she had experienced a terrifying incident while serving and was "extremely impressed with Peace Corps support." She also said she knew of robberies and of a fellow volunteer who had been assaulted -- and yet extended her service for a third year.
On the Peace Corps' Facebook page, volunteer Mary Kuhlke wrote from the village in Malawi where she is serving that she hadn't yet been able to see the "20/20" report, but wanted readers to know that "we're not simply left out here to dry. . . . Give PC and its directors a little more credit."
A vigorous defense of the Peace Corps by former Cameroon volunteer Wendy Lee was quoted in an AOL Politics Daily article on the ABC News report and sparked on-line expressions of support from other volunteers. In her blog, Lee said she regretted that the report would leave the impression with would-be volunteers that " 'you are now going to go live in a hut in the middle of nowhere with no reseources AND you will probably get raped and killed? That's insane. No thanks.'"
Former Volunteer: 'We Often Felt Like We Were Being Over-Protected'
Wrote Lee, "The reality is, Peace Corps takes safety and security extremely seriously. So much so, we often felt like we were being over-protected. Before we even got on the plane, we went through sessions where we were made aware of cases of robbery, rape, and various unfortunate events. Peace Corps gave us the statistics that were definitely downright frightening to a group of people who had little idea on what they were getting themselves into. Throughout our training and the rest of our service, safety and security were top priority."
"Well written," responded mbaexperiment via Twitter. "I wish you would have been interviewed on 20/20."
"As a woman who served in the Peace Corps, I always felt that the organization was looking out for my safety & wellbeing even when I wasn't."
ChirimoyaKris said, "Peace Corps is the safest volunteer org. I felt overprotected at times."
But Moles, while defending the Peace Corps, noted that the ABC News report came on the heels of news of the failing health of founding director Sargent Shriver, who helmed the organization when it launched under JFK 50 years ago, and the agency's decision to evacuate the country of Niger.
"It's been a crappy week for Peace Corps," she said.
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.