Obama signs 'Kate's law' to protect Peace Corps workers

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 21, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The Puzey family gathered at the White House on Monday and looked on as President Barack Obama signed into law a measure named for Kate Puzey, a murdered Peace Corps worker whose death in 2009 was the catalyst for organizational reforms.

For the Puzeys, the signing was a bittersweet end to a two-year journey for justice for a murdered loved one.

"It's hard for us with Kate being gone," said Kate's father, Harry Puzey. "It gave us something to be thankful for at Thanksgiving."

Peace Corps worker Kate Puzey was found dead, her throat slit as she slept on the front porch of her hut in the small West African village of Badjoude, Benin. She was killed shortly after she reported a colleague for allegedly molesting some of the girls they helped teach.

Puzey's slaying, which is under investigation, is just one of a series of violent attacks on female Peace Corps workers in recent years.

The law is the culmination of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson's two-year-long advocacy on behalf of Puzey. The law is aimed at protecting Peace Corps workers who report sexual and other assaults while working in the field and provides whistleblower protection for Peace Corps workers who report assaults against themselves or others.

It also requires the organization to report and develop training methods for dealing with sexual assaults, and it directs the Peace Corps to submit to Congress annual reports on assaults on volunteers. The organization already has put some of these measures into place.

From 2000 to 2009, an average of 22 female Peace Corps workers a year reported that they were victims of sexual assault, according to the organization.

Sexually violent crimes often go unreported, and the true figures might be much higher.

Isakson attended Puzey's funeral, sat with her terminally ill father in the family's suburban Cumming, Ga., home and traveled halfway around the world to press the president of Benin to investigate Kate's death.

But the senator told himself he wouldn't visit the gravesite until Kate's bill was made law.

"It's a very rewarding feeling for the Puzey family," Isakson said Monday. "It helps them to get closure."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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