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South Florida Congress members back bills to protect Peace Corps workers from assaults

A House panel approved on Wednesday a pair of bills -- co-sponsored by three South Florida Congress members -- aimed at protecting Peace Corps workers from violent attacks such as rape and murder.

The legislation passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support from Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami and the committee's chairwoman; David Rivera, R-Miami, and Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens.

Ros-Lehtinen praised her colleagues, particularly Wilson, for working together quickly on the bills, which would make it easier for volunteers to report sexual assault. Peace Corps workers would also be trained to respond to allegations of violence and provide victims with better assistance.

Wilson called the Peace Corps "an example of all that is right with America's foreign policy," though she urged the committee to go further to protect volunteers in the future.

The legislation was prompted by testimony in Congress earlier this year from three Peace Corps volunteers who were raped while serving overseas. Lawmakers also heard from the mother of Kate Puzey, a volunteer from Georgia who was murdered in Benin shortly after she reported that a colleague allegedly molested some young female students.

The proposed legislation would be named after Puzey.