Peace Corps’ Controversy in 50th Anniversary Year

Google News for “Peace Corps” today — top results will include the death yesterday of Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., its founder and prominent public service advocate, and a 20/20 investigation that alleges the Peace Corps let a number of its volunteers down in some very serious ways.

The organization, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, may have been imagining a different kind of publicity to start the year. Instead, there’s the controversy that has surrounded ABC News’ recent report on Kate Puzey, a Peace Corps volunteer murdered in 2009 during her stint in Benin.

Her parents were on 20/20 Friday, talking about how they felt Peace Corps tried to “keep the case and the mistakes quiet, and keep them in the dark about what happened.” The family says Peace Corps put their daughter’s life on the line by not keeping confidential her allegations that an employee was sexually abusing kids at the school where she taught. He was reportedly let go after her complaint, and “is being held as the prime suspect in her murder but maintains his innocence.”

Other volunteers spoke on the show about the lack of support Peace Corps provided after they were assaulted during their time with the organization.

Peace Corps released a response to the show, in which director Aaron Williams said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation into Puzey’s murder but offered an apology to the family.

I would like to offer my apologies to the Puzey family if either the former leadership or the agency under my direction could have been more compassionate. Personally, it is heartbreaking to learn that they ever felt abandoned by the Peace Corps. This has never been our intent.

He also offered comments about reform, health and safety for Peace Corps participants.

The women interviewed by 20/20 are courageous and strong. Their stories are heartbreaking. Since their service, Peace Corps has improved sexual assault prevention procedures and practices, and we will continue to be responsive to the victims of assault and provide comprehensive care.

Peace Corps also issued a statement before the show aired, which can be downloaded from its website. With the statements issued, it will be interesting to see what the organization does next.