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.