WASHINGTON — Jess Smochek arrived in Bangladesh in 2004 as a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer with dreams of teaching English and “helping the world.” She left six weeks later a rape victim after being brutalized in an alley by a knife-wielding gang.
When she returned to the United States, the reception she received from Peace Corps officials was as devastating, she said, as the rape itself. In Bangladesh, she had been given scant medical care; in Washington, a counselor implied that she was to blame for the attack. For years she kept quiet, feeling “ashamed and embarrassed and guilty.”
Today, Ms. Smochek is among a growing group of former Peace Corps volunteers who are speaking out about their sexual assaults, prompting scrutiny from Congress and a pledge from the agency for reform. In going public, they are exposing an ugly sliver of life in the Peace Corps: the dangers that volunteers face in far-flung corners of the world and the inconsistent — and, some say, callous — treatment they receive when they become crime victims.
“These women are alone in many cases, and they’re in rough parts of the world,” said Representative Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, who says the Peace Corps’ promises do not go far enough and is sponsoring legislation to force changes in the way it treats victims of sexual assault. “We want the United States to rush in and treat them as a victim of crime like they would be treated here at home.”
Categories: United States