Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Senators refuse to protect rape victims from corporations

by Jillian Hewitt

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) proposed an amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill—deemed the “anti-rape amendment”—that would allow employees of defense contractors to sue their employers should they be raped or sexually assaulted in some other way. What’s that? Surely employees of American corporations should be allow to sue in the event that they’re like, gang-raped? Think again. I’ve done a fair amount of research into the things that our government has either allowed or refused to punish during the “war on terror,” but this is by far the most outrageous thing I’ve heard about to date. Sadly, there are so many outrageous things that the public will never hear about. With that, I should start at the beginning…

As a 19-year-old employee for KBR (a then-subsidiary of Haliburton,) Jamie Leigh Jones was stationed at Camp Hope, in Baghdad. On July 28th, 2005 a group of KBR employees put date rape drugs into a drink and gave it to her; she passed out; they raped her repeatedly. She woke up naked, bruised, and bleeding. She tried to get help from an Army physician, Jodi Schultz, who gave her a rape kit. It was given to KBR security forces, and then it disappeared for 2 years only to be found without vital information. Under orders of KBR, Jones was kept in a shipping container for several days after the rape so that she wouldn’t be able to report it. She was finally rescued by dispatchers from the US Embassy in Baghdad and brought back to the United States.

Then, Jamie tried to sue KBR and its employees—she never found out exactly who raped her, because she was unconscious, but one man admitted that he had been part of the group. KBR responded that Jones had no right to sue, and that the matter would have to be resolved in private arbitration because of the terms of her employment contract. Now this seems ridiculous, but hey, never underestimate a private defense contractor’s desire for complete freedom from the law. So someone in the Senate, Al Franken, decides something needs to be done about this and writes up an amendment. The amendment requires that defense contractors allow their employees access to U.S. courts—not just private arbitrators—in the event that they are raped or sexually assaulted. Sounds pretty straightforward right? The amendment passed 68-30. Not 98-0, but 68-30. This is how far 30 (male, white) Republican senators were willing to go to ensure that government doesn’t “get involved in private contracts.” To be sure, there were Republicans who voted for this amendment; in fact, Ted Poe (R-TX) was the Representative responsible for rescuing Jones from KBR in the first place.

I guess it shouldn’t shock me, but it really does: how do you justify putting your allegiance to a private defense contractor (Haliburton/KBR) over your obligation to protect women who are raped and sexually assaulted? I don’t have to try to answer this question myself, thank God, because a few of the senators who voted against the amendment have already done it for me. For instance, John Thune (R-S.D.) said in a filmed hallway interview that “he might have supported the amendment if it had been narrowed to cover rape rather than extended to cover other sexual-related abuses.” So you would have given women who are raped the right to sue their employees, if only the amendment hadn’t given power to those pesky souls who were only sexually abused? Wow, Senator Thune, that is so compassionate of you! In his explanation for voting against the amendment, Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explained that “congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts; that’s just not how we should handle matters in the United States Senate.”

As Jon Stewart was smart to point out, that is, in fact, how the Senate is supposed to work: the government hires private contractors, and in turn they get a say in how the contractor handles its business. And wait a minute, did he seriously defend himself with the “get government out of businesses!” argument? Again, Stewart’s response is better than anything I could come up with on my own, so I’ll just quote him: “If, to protect Haliburton, you have to side against rape victims, you might want to rethink your allegiances.”

Every one of these senators had the choice to either protect defense contractors from public litigation, or give power to those who have been sexually abused. Please speak out by calling, emailing, or sending letters to the following senators who chose the former:

Alexander (R-TN), Barrasso (R-WY), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Burr (R-NC), Chambliss (R-GA), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Corker (R-TN), Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Thune (R-SD), Vitter (R-LA), Wicker (R-MS)


At October 21, 2009 at 10:04 AM , Blogger John said...

The government's involvement aside, this story mainly has me wondering who would sign a contract that has a rape clause in it in the frst place. I suppose it could be cleverly hidden somehow or couched in broader language that doesn't refer directly to rape, but even so it I think one should be wary of anything in a contract that gives one's employer a get out of jail free card.
On the government's side of this, they should clearly be able to make certain demands of companies they give contracts to--that is, it is not so hard for the government to put a "you can't rape your employees" clause into its contracts.

At October 21, 2009 at 1:42 PM , Blogger Jillian said...

to clarify, it's not that the employment contract says "if you happen to get raped, you cannot sue our company." it's more along the lines of, "if anything ever happens that makes you want to sue, you cannot sue our company in open court. you have to deal with it through private arbitration." nonetheless, the "get out of jail free" effect is the same.

At October 22, 2009 at 4:09 PM , Blogger Courtny said...

I just called Senator Vitter's office to an intern who told me this was all just a front for Al Franken to pass his amendment which had nothing to do with rape victims and that the victim has gotten her day in court.

Um, what?


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