Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr chalked up a big pro bono win Tuesday night when Congress passed reforms to the Peace Corps Act to prevent volunteers from becoming the target of rape or sexual assault and protect whistleblowers and victims.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously (406-0) in favor of the legislation, dubbed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act. The bill, named for a Peace Corps volunteer killed in Benin in 2009, passed the Senate on Sept. 26. The legislation heads next to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
The bill would require the Peace Corps to provide “comprehensive sexual assault risk-reduction and response training” and information about what to do if a volunteer becomes the victim of sexual assault. It would establish a sexual assault advisory council and require the agency to track the incidents of sexual assault against volunteers.
“We are thrilled that Congress and the Peace Corps responded so quickly and comprehensively,” said Reginald Brown, a Wilmer partner and head of the firm’s congressional investigation practice.
Brown, a former Peace Corps volunteer himself who served in Micronesia from 1990 to 1992, was contacted by former Peace Corps volunteers who had been victims of sexual assault. He assembled a team of lawyers led by second-year associate Natalie Adams.
“It’s a real myth that young lawyers can’t add value,” Brown said. “Natalie led this engagement as a second-year associate. Helping volunteers tell the story of their experiences, preparing for hearings and media events, negotiating with a federal agency and shepherding through legislation in less than a year is quite an accomplishment.”
Associate Robert Zachary Beasley and summer associate Matthew Robinson worked alongside Adams, according to a press release. Brown and three other partners – Kimberly Parker, Eric Mogilnicki and John Valentine – assisted.
“Ultimately, the power of our clients’ stories and the sacrifice of Kate Puzey – who died trying to advocate for assault victims – made this legislation a reality,” Brown said.