WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- Lawmakers voiced bipartisan support during a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on physical and sexual abuse experienced by Peace Corps volunteers.
"Your testimony is going to make a big difference," Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told the witnesses Wednesday. "Your testimony is going to make a big difference."
"I thought I was alone in my experience," Carol Clark, a Nepal volunteer in the mid-1980s who testified about being raped by her Nepali program director, the Peace Corps reported on its Web site.
At the time of the assault, Clark said she wasn't offered counseling, was mistreated by medical personnel and was instructed to say her departure from service was because of dysentery.
"Help us build a better, stronger, safer Peace Corps so our daughters can build a better world," she said
Karestan Chase Koenen, a rape survivor who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in 1991, said research indicates a lack of support and response following a sexual assault greatly increases the chance of post-traumatic stress disorder.
While the Peace Corps has updated its protocols to better address sexual assault, Koenen, now a professor at Columbia University, said, "they remain dangerously inadequate."
"I have never been so incensed and enraged by the actions of an agency," Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, said, while Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said "What troubles me most was there was a lack of sensitivity and compassion."
Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams told the committee steps already have been taken to address the matter and pledged to work with Congress and survivors, saying "more needs to be done."
Williams said the Peace Corps already was in conversations with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., on possible whistle-blower legislation.
The survivors expressed support for the Peace Corps, with Clark saying "I still believe in the ideals of the Peace Corps."
All noted that legislation is needed to fully address the issue, in part because of the decades-long incidents of concern and also because of the regular turnover of political appointees and staff.