Victims' Rights Caucus

Articles

Obama to Sign Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act
By ANGELA M. HILL and RANDY KREIDER
Nov. 21, 2011 —
President Obama is poised to sign the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act today, less than a
year after an ABC News investigation into the murder of the 24-year-old volunteer in Africa.


The act, which passed earlier this month in Congress, is designed to protect Peace Corps whistleblowers
and improve the treatment of victims of violence and sexual assault.


The law is named for 24-year-old Kate Puzey of Georgia, who was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling
superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. In an investigation
that aired on "20/20," ABC News told the story of Kate's murder and examined what critics say has been
a "blame-the-victim" culture within the Peace Corps when volunteers are assaulted or attempt to report
problems.


"It's such a wonderful thing. We're really, really happy this is happening," Kate's mother, Lois Puzey told ABC
News of the signing today. "It really has restored my faith in humankind and the fact that government can
work."


Karestan Koenen, a former Peace Corps volunteer who was raped while serving in Niger in 1991, said she
has been overwhelmed by the bill's success in government.


"We're fighters. We fought all along the way and were inspirations to each other," Koenen said of all the
former volunteers who came forward. "I hope it will mean a change in the culture from one of victim blaming
to one that embraces victims, supports them and treats them with respect and compassion."


Sen. Johnny Isakson, R.-Georgia, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the bill with a Capitol Hill press
conference this summer.


"The time has come to stand up and protect America's angels abroad", said Poe at the press conference
then.


"This bipartisan legislation will implement structural changes to make the Peace Corps an even better
institution as it enters its next fifty years," he said today.


Calling today a "historic day" for Peace Corps volunteers, Isakson said, "May this new law honor the life of
the remarkable young woman, Kate Puzey, as it ensures that the courageous young men and women who
serve in the Peace Corps have the protections they rightly deserve."


The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would
protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the
agency serves.


Kate Puzey was serving in a village in the West African nation of Benin in March 2009 when she began to
suspect that a Peace Corps employee named Constant Bio, a citizen of Benin, was sexually harassing and
sleeping with female students at the school where she taught. She sent an email to country headquarters
reporting her suspicions and recommending he be fired.


"Please believe me, I'm not someone who likes to create problems, but this has been weighing heavily on
me," reads the e-mail she sent, obtained by ABC News.


Bio's brother worked as a manager in the Peace Corps office and Puzey asked her role be kept secret. She
was found with her throat slit shortly after Bio received word from Peace Corps officials that he would be
dismissed from his contractor position. The suspect has been in custody since the murder while authorities
in Benin investigate. Bio asserted his innocence in a letter to a newspaper in Benin, claiming he was being
framed by America. Benin authorities have said they do not yet have enough evidenc