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Peace Corps volunteers speak out against rape, sexual assault

More than 1,000 women have been raped or sexually assaulted while serving in foreign countries in the last decade.

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A 15-year-old woman seeking medical treatment waits at the Doctors Without Boarders (MSF) clinic in Monrovia on November 30, 2009, after being raped. (Glenna Gordon/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of former Peace Corps volunteers have come together to speak out against their experiences with rape and sexual assault and to demand such instances be handled better by the organization.

By bringing such a sensitive and long-ignored issue into the public, the volunteers have prompted scrutiny from the U.S. Congress and pledges by the Peace Corps to address the issue, the New York Times reports.

“These women are alone in many cases, and they’re in rough parts of the world,” Rep. Ted Poe told the Times. “We want the United States to rush in and treat them as a victim of crime like they would be treated here at home.”

Poe is sponsoring legislation to force changes in the way the Peace Corps treats victims of such attacks.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will convene a hearing Wednesday to examine crimes committed against volunteers and accusations of mismanagement of claims.

The Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by former President John F. Kennedy and has since placed more than 200,000 volunteers in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from HIV/AIDS education to environmental preservation, according to the agency's website.

However, an average of 22 Peace Corps female volunteers a year have reported being the victim of rape or attempted rape from 2000 to 2009, according to the agency's statistics.

An ABC News "20/20" investigation found that more than 1,000 women have been raped or sexually assaulted while serving in foreign countries for the Peace Corps in the last decade.

Some victims have accused the Peace Corps of ignoring safety concerns and later blaming the victim.

Jess Smochek, 29, told ABC News she was brutally gang raped in Bangladesh after repeated telling Peace Corps officials she felt unsafe there.

One former volunteer who faced sexual assault, Casey Frazee, has been a leading figure in the campaign to force the organization to address this issue. In a blog post written on Change.org Monday, she describes her experience:

"Being sexually assaulted changed who I was forever. That one act of betrayal. That one act of such an intimate violation. I now view the world through the lens of a survivor," she writes.

"My attacker was part of my host family and he had harassed me for months. After being assaulted in June 2009, I discovered in the most difficult and personal way possible that Peace Corps had no global policy on how to manage incidents of sexual assault and rape ... . I was left on my own to devolve in various locations throughout South Africa."

Frazee started First Response Action to advocate for better policies within the Peace Corps.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/culture-lifestyle/traveltourism/110511/peace-corps-rape-sexual-assault