The Nation published a story today about another case involving a woman working for Texas-based defense contractor KBR who alleges she was gang-raped in Iraq. Lisa Smith, the pseudonym of a 42-year-old paramedic from Texas, claims she was drugged and then sexually assaulted by a U.S. soldier and a fellow KBR employee in January, shortly after she arrived in Iraq. As in the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, another KBR employee from Texas who's been outspoken about her alleged gang-rape by coworkers, the company has been less than supportive -- even confiscating Smith's computer as "evidence" shortly after she e-mailed an attorney for help.
Sexual violence against women contract workers in Iraq appears disturbingly widespread. Reporter Karen Houppert notes that one Houston firm has 15 clients with sexual assault, sexual harassment and related retaliation complaints against KBR, its former parent company Halliburton, and KBR shell company Service Employees International Inc. In addition, Jones has been contacted by 40 U.S. contractor employees who say they've been the victims of sexual assault or harassment. And as Houppert points out, justice has proved elusive for these women:
Most of these complaints never see the light of day, thanks to the fine print in employee contracts that compels employees into binding arbitration instead of allowing their complaints to be tried in a public courtroom. Criminal prosecutions are practically nonexistent, as the US Justice Department has turned a blind eye to these cases.
Last October, the House passed a bill that requires the FBI to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by U.S. contractors and allows them to be tried under American jurisdiction. However, the Senate has not yet taken any action on the measure.
Sue is the editorial director of Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies.