KBR, the defense contractor doing a lot of heavy lifting in the upholding of our occupation of Iraq, has banned the use of personal cell phones by its employees. KBR and its previous parent company Halliburton are notorious for many things. One of those things is the rape and cover up of rape committed by its male employees against its female employees.
How are the two related? Well, the first and most widely-known woman to come forward with an allegation of rape and cover up is Jamie Leigh Jones. Jones was gang raped by her coworkers, then locked inside of a shipping container for days in order to prevent her from reporting the attack. The Justice Department never brought charges against her assailants, and extremely important evidence in the case was “lost” by KBR. But the relevant part is how Jones escaped: through the use of a cell phone. A “sympathetic guard” loaned the phone to her, which she used to call her father in the United States. Her father subsequently called his congressperson, who ended up securing Jones’ release. If that “sympathetic guard” (you know, the one who didn’t set her free) hadn’t handed her that cell phone, god only knows where Jamie Leigh Jones would be today. But it just might not be alive, let alone acting as a major anti-rape and anti-KBR activist.
So. KBR employee is raped by her coworkers and then kidnapped and held prisoner. Employee secures her release through use of a personal cell phone. KBR doesn’t really give a shit about any of it. Employee makes a lot of noise about the incident, making KBR look really bad, even if not actually impacting the company financially. KBR bans personal cell phone use.
Now, whether or not Jones’ case and the number of similar allegations of rape and cover up that have come to light directly led to the ban of cell phones, we do not know. KBR isn’t talking, and only says that the ban is related to “a safety and security concern.”
But clearly, the safety and security of its female employees is not a concern. Maybe there was a valid safety and security concern that led to the ban. Or maybe “safety and security concern” means “the safety and security of our government contracts and image.” Looking at KBR’s long, repulsive history in this area, I tend to lean towards the latter, and I’m far from being the only one.
But let’s assume for a moment that KBR’s decision to ban cell phones has absolutely nothing to do with Jones’ case and others like it. Let’s be extraordinarily generous and pretend that their goal is not to prevent more rape victims from reporting the attacks perpetrated against them or speaking to loved ones about their rapes and rapists. Doesn’t matter. Even if KBR was not intentionally trying to stifle rape victims and put them in even more danger, I don’t give a shit, because that’s the end result we’re looking at. It will give the large number of victims one less recourse to ensure their safety. It will further isolate them from everyone outside of the company, leaving them with little to no support in a hostile climate. And it will embolden rapists within KBR, as if they needed that extra help. At this point, Jamie Leigh Jones’ story is well-known, and one has to assume that this is particularly the case within KBR. What exactly is stopping rapists from trying the whole thing all over again — now that they know there will be no real consequences for their actions, and even if their were, they’re now less likely to get caught in the first place?
If nothing else, best case scenario, this move shows KBR’s incredibly callousness towards rape survivors, its indifference if not promotion of its corporate rape culture, and its total obliviousness to the consequences of its own actions.
But KBR long ago gave up its right to be given the benefit of the doubt. So I still think it shows that when it comes to rape cover up, KBR knows what the hell it’s doing, and knows that no one will even bother trying to stop them.
Thanks to SunlessNick for the links.