The fact that many of the young American women who have selflessly dedicated years of their lives to helping people in the Third World have been the victims of sexual violence while working for the Peace Corps has been swept under the rug by the Agency for decades. Unfortunately, efforts to help the victims are being impeded by partisan considerations in which Democrats refuse to join any effort to pressure the Corps to act.

Thanks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this disgraceful situation is about to become a matter of concern for Congress. Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s committee will be holding a hearing today to highlight the plight of volunteers and the awful treatment that they have received from the Peace Corps, which in the minds of some, is comparable to the brutality they suffered while being assaulted.

The issue was highlighted on an ABC’s 20/20 program in January and in a New York Times article that appeared today. The problem is not just that Peace Corps workers are subjected to violence but that the Corps has had a consistent policy of covering up these incidents in order not to scare away potential volunteers and not to ruffle feathers in the countries where these crimes occur. A “blame the victim” mentality has prevailed in the Peace Corps that left these abused Americans with no one to turn to after attacks happen.

Now that it is in the cross-hairs of Congress and the media, the Peace Corps is singing a different tune promising to adopt a more “victim-centered approach.” But Texas Republican Ted Poe is seeking to make this promise a requirement with a bill that would force the Corps to change the way it treats victims of sexual assault. The legislation would require the Peace Corps to develop “sexual assault response teams” to collect forensic evidence and provide emergency health care and advocacy for victims after attacks.

The bill is being co-sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Niki Tsongas but, according to the Times, she is having trouble getting members of her own party to back it. As the Times reports:

They worry that the legislation, and Wednesday’s hearing, might be used to undermine the Peace Corps — the legacy of a Democratic president — and cut its funding.

Apparently, just as some feminist groups were prepared to give President Bill Clinton a pass on his record of sexual harassment, so now some Democrats are willing to do the same with the Peace Corps on its sorry record on rape. We’ll be waiting to see whether feminist groups who claim to speak for female victims of sexual violence will also be so awed by the memory of John F. Kennedy that they will refuse to pressure Congress to help Peace Corps volunteers who have been victimized while serving their nation abroad.

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