Thursday, October 15, 2009

Raped? File a complaint with the HR department.

The luscious Laurel of Licentiously Yours wrote a recent post on Eden Café that utterly astonished me. I've often been told that we live in a 'rape culture' - a claim I think most men are either skeptical or uncomfortable about. Seeing what she uncovered, though, leaves no doubt in my mind that even if we don't live in a 'rape culture,' - something is still deeply, unconscionably wrong with our society.

Laurel revealed that huge corporations, like KBR/Halliburton, often have a clause in their employment contracts that contractually demand allegations of rape and other crimes committed by fellow employees are arbitrated privately - not by criminal or civil courts.

In short, if you get raped on the job, it's your local Human Resources department that deals with it. You can get fired for reporting the rape to the police and you've signed away your right to seek restitution in the civil courts.

It sounds astonishing. It gets even worse when this clause gets put into use.

Like in the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a civilian contractor working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was slipped date-rape drugs in a beverage by her colleagues - and while unconscious, was brutally beaten, raped and sodomised.

A US Physician confirmed that she'd been raped - and recorded her injuries. Yet instead of reporting the rape, her employers at Halliburton confined Jones to a shipping crate for 24 hours without food or water - while they tried to cover the rape up and prevent her reporting it.

It was only when a sympathetic guard allowed her to use her cell-phone that she was able to contact her father - who contacted their local representative and had State Department agents fly to Baghdad to bring the brutalized woman home.

(This is the reason Halliburton employees in Iraq are no longer allowed cell-phones.)

What happened next pales in comparison to the ordeal Jones had already been through - but remains utterly disgusting.

Halliburton confiscated the rape kit and evidence taken by the US physician who had treated Jones - and only part of it was returned, containing too little evidence to use in a criminal prosecution. Due to immunity granted to Halliburton employees, neither the Iraqi government or the US Department of Justice filed criminal proceedings. Even worse, Jone's contract of employment forbid her from suing those who had raped her, or Halliburton itself.

It took three years for Jones to finally get that ruling overturned - and start the road to receiving some form of justice. However, in order to prevent something as shocking and disgusting as this from ever happening again, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota put forward a bill banning companies and corporations using similar clauses in their employment contracts.

The bill passed - but it wasn't unanimous.

In fact, 30 representatives - all of them Republican - voted against this bill, arguing that it was a 'personal attack' on Halliburton (even though it affected all companies) and gave congress too much power in influencing the employment contracts of defense employees.

“This misleading, partisan attack makes clear yet again just how out of touch Democrats in Washington are with the serious issues facing average Americans," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.

Now I can understand Republicans objecting to single-payer health care, or government-funded insurance options. I can understand them objecting to finance regulations, or stricter rules governing the housing market. I get that they're all about the 'free market system.'

But how anybody - anybody - could argue that it's right, fair, just or American to contractually deny an employee protection against rape is just disgusting.

Disgusting, maybe - but as I've discovered with American politics, it's hardly unusual. Not when every senate vote is for sale to the highest corporate bidder

So, yes, maybe those feminists have a point when they say we live in a 'rape culture.' It's not just pour old Jamie Leigh Jones who was raped in this instance. It's the entire notion of justice in 'corporate' America.


paul mitchell said...

I agree that the whole Brown family should be imprisoned and anyone that they ever backed should be flogged in the town square. Dig Lyndon Johnson up and get started.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims.

The purpose of the bill specifically singles out Haliburton.

I'll also point out that you're writing about Jones's allegations as if they were factual. That's something a jury will be deciding, and by no means definite.

I think it's probably best to attempt to figure out the facts in the case before we try to amend the law.

I'll also point out that Iraq is not the US, and contractors are not soldiers. So it's not clear that an amendment like this, which tries to extend US law to another country, makes a lot of sense.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

One more thing: The issue that Haliburton proposed for arbitration is that of the company's liability, if any, for the incident.

Saying that "if you get raped on the job, it's your local Human Resources department that deals with it." is grossly distorting what's going on here.

Brandi said...

In response to the Occasional Professor Tom above:

Haliburton became 'responsible' for the situation the minute they decided to take the investigation into their own hands. They COULD have washed their hands of the workers that committed this disgusting crime in the first place. Throw them to the wolves. Make them deal with the consequences of their actions. But instead, they chose to wash their hands of the victim instead.

Regardless of the what the laws state, the loopholes that exist etc, what Haliburton did was wrong. If they didn't know it was wrong, they wouldn't have a 'clause' covering rape on the job in the first place.

It makes me sick to my stomach to think that a company, who by no means is an authority in the justice system, can do something like this.

I know there is a big difference between what the law says is right, and what is morally right. But no one who has suffered something like rape or attack should be forced to suffer more.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

Haliburton doesn't have a clause covering "rape on the job", though, except insofar as the clause covers everything from a stubbed toe to an IED.

It's not clear that Haliburton did anything wrong here. They might have, and they might not have, but that's something for the legal process to decide.

And I think the legal process is working fairly well here. So far, all the courts have found is a narrow decision about the arbitration agreement she signed--- it didn't find it invalid, but only that it didn't apply to the case at hand.

It remains to be seen what, if anything*, the courts determine happened in Iraq.

I don't think we should pre-judge in congress the outcome of a pending legal case.

According to timeline taken from her website, it was the State department, not Haliburton, that investigated the case.

* It's pretty clear that Curtis was raped, and she should have our sympathy. What's not clear is the circumstances surrounding it, who the culprit(s) were, or if Haliburton should share any blame.

Laurel said...

OPT - The problem is that the courts won't be determining what happened in Iraq. No criminal charges will be filed due to the fact that it took place outside the country and those involved are granted immunity from prosecution for crimes in that country as employees of Halliburton.

What makes this case even more vile is the fact that Halliburton took action to prevent not only the reporting of this crime but to prevent the victim from seeking medical attention as well.

The point here, ultimately, is that a company who requires it's employees to waive their ability to sue them can then behave this way without consequences.

And Halliburton has shown they have no issue with taking matters into their own hands and treating their employees despicably.

It seems like a perfectly reasonable plan for our government to stop doing business with companies who choose to operate in this manner.

Occasional Professor Tom said...

What makes this case even more vile is the fact that Halliburton took action to prevent not only the reporting of this crime but to prevent the victim from seeking medical attention as well.

Did they?

I think you're prejudging the outcome of the case. (And that's my whole point... we should wait for the case to finish before we figure out what we can learn from it.)