More Contractor Rape, More Cover Up

I mentioned before that the theme of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is sexual violence in the workplace. So, let’s talk about it.

Another woman has come forward to tell her story about working for KBR in Iraq. She was drugged and brutally gang raped by at least one American soldier and one KBR coworker. As the only medical personnel in the area, she was required to treat herself, never received a rape kit, was forced to medically treat her rapists during the course of her job before she was allowed to go home two and a half weeks later, had her allegations ignored by her supervisor who may have actually been one of the rapists, and then faced multiple aggressive attempts at cover up once she reported the attack.

The Nation has the full story. I’m issuing a strong trigger warning for the article as the descriptions of rape are graphic and the recounting of what happened next is very emotionally painful and difficult. But if you can do so safely, I adamantly urge you to read it.

The bottom line is this: American contractors in Iraq have no legal recourse when victimized by other Americans. Their contracts with the companies rule out the possibility of a court trial and enforce binding arbitration as though that is some sort of justice. There is currently only one way to receive a court trial: the Department of Justice has to be willing to prosecute. Thus far, they have not prosecuted a single rape allegation of this nature and refuse to comment on the cases.

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that trying American soldiers and contractors who committed violent crimes in Iraq isn’t good publicity for the war, and the Bush Administration’s incestuous government won’t have it. As we ought to know by now, there is no oversight when it comes to this war. And with only a few notable exceptions, Democrats haven’t exactly stepped up to the plate. My favorite Rochestarian Louise Slaughter has done some work on the issue, but has been stonewalled by the government. And though the House passed legislation that would require the FBI to investigate these cases and allow all American contractors to be tried under U.S. law, the Senate has sat on its ass and ignored the issue.

It’s repulsive that we allow this sort of shit to happen. There’s just no other way to describe it; it makes me physically ill. I’d love to believe that if there was enough publicity, the government would be forced to do something. But Jamie Leigh Jones, the very brave rape survivor who came forward and has been leading the fight for rights of contractors who have been victims of sexual violence, received tons of publicity. And the response of the DOJ? Not a fucking peep. The response of her former employer KBR/Halliburton, who still enjoys my and your tax dollars to make a giant mess in another country? Lies, denial and more lies.

All the while, more women keep coming forward and telling their own stories of brutal rape, contempt, harassment and intimidation received at the hands of the government and grotesquely government-funded and government-backed companies — and of course, we have every reason to believe that the percentage of those who report and/or publicly tell their stories is minuscule. And the inaction by the government just sits there as an open invitation to every rapist and would-be rapist currently working as a soldier or contractor in Iraq.

Jones has begun her own foundation to work on these issues. You can contact your congressional representatives and urge them to pass the aforementioned bill. Donations are needed. You can also learn more about the issue, including the Jamie Leigh Act of 2008, which would set up a law similar to the Cleary Act that governs college campuses (albeit not entirely successfully). Sign more petitions here in favor of the Jamie Leigh Act and a bill that would ban mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts.

And if anyone out there knows of or can think of more concrete action to take, I’m all ears.

0 thoughts on “More Contractor Rape, More Cover Up

  1. kelly g.

    How about putting some pressure on Clinton, Obama and McCain to address the issue should they win in ’08? Quite frankly, I don’t think we’ll make any progress while Bush is in office. Even if the Senate steps up to pass meaningful legislation, he’ll just veto it. He’s all about teh wimmins like that.

  2. kelly g.

    You know, in addition to putting pressure on our Congresspeople and the candidates to get the DOJ to do it’s f’in job – and, if (i.e., when) that fails, urging the Senate to take up the House’s legislation granting the FBI the power to investigate these abuses – we should also encourage them to eliminate binding arbitration clauses altogether, since they run afoul of the 7th Amendment. Non-binding arbitration should be regulated so that it’s fair and voluntary. As it stands, arbitration is neither.

    Sure, a company will tell you that its arbitration clause is voluntary, but your “choice” as a consumer/employee is either sign it or don’t do business. As such clauses become increasingly commonplace, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a company/employer who doesn’t demand that you sign one.

    For example, Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones wrote about her experience car shopping. When the first dealer she hit up demanded that she sign some bullshit arbitration clause, she shopped around – and was unable to find a single dealer, selling the car she wanted, who did not demand that she sign an arbitration clause. So she found a used car from a private seller…and the bank that loaned her the money to buy the car had an even worse arbitration clause in its loan docs! So she signed the fucking clause. “Voluntary” my ass.

    And this is just shopping for a car. Imagine, say, trying to find a job in the midst of a recession. And the only companies hiring insist on some ridiculous, borderline criminal binding arbitration clause. I guess you could “choose” to pass on the job and sell your house, your kidneys, and your children to pay the bills instead. /snark

    Even worse is that arbitration isn’t even a fair process; in many (most? all?) of the clauses, the corporation demanding arbitration retains sole discretion in choosing the arbitration company that will hear the case – essentially making them the arbitrator’s employer. And if they want repeat business, it sure as shit behooves the arbitrator to rule on their employer’s behalf, no? In another MoJo article, Mencimer quotes a Public Citizen study that found that “in 94 percent of 19,000 cases, NAF arbitrators ruled in favor of the businesses that hired them.”

    So also, contact your Congresspeople and tell them to 1) make binding clauses unenforceable, since they’re unconstitutional and 2) pass legislation regulating non-binding arbitration clauses. At the very least, the party agreeing to arbitration should be able to choose the arbitrator – this will help to level the playing field somewhat. Also, the proceedings should be subject to the same disclosure laws as are court proceedings. The public has a right to know what the hell a company’s up to, and this is a collective right that neither party should be able to sign away.* If companies have less to gain from arbitration (e.g., a guaranteed win and privacy), then perhaps fewer of them will demand it, and it will actually be voluntary. Then again, if it’s all non-binding, additional regulation may be moot anyway.

    Of course, there are some cases where arbitration clauses (binding or not) should be un-fucking-enforceable, such as when a violent crime is involved. Like when you’re sent to a war zone, gang-raped by your co-workers, and then are treated like a criminal yourself.

    * Republicans and libertarians, what with all their circle jerking about the “forces of a free market”, should be behind us all the way here. After all, if consumers are unable to make informed choices about who to do business with, then there are no “forces” to speak of.

  3. Kristen

    Kelly G.,

    I know Obama already has by introducing S.2147, which makes crimes with sentences in excess of one year punishable against government contractors.

    A summary found here:

    I believe Clinton sponsored in the Senate HR.4102, which instructs the president not to use private contractors in mission critical functions. (I don’t have the url.)

    Both were responding to Blackwater, but would also address this concern to some extent. (Although IMO, Clinton’s plan wouldn’t be as effective since it doesn’t apply to non-mission critical contractors.)

  4. Pingback: Jamie Leigh Jones May Get Her Day in Court; More KBR Victims Come Forward : The Curvature

  5. Pingback: KBR Bans Cell Phones and Silences Rape Victims : The Curvature

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