Monday, April 7, 2008

Speak Out Against the Sexual Violence in Iraq

Did you know that approximately 30% of military women will be sexually assaulted while serving their country? Or that women who work as contract employees in Iraq face similar dangers?

Jamie Leigh Jones recently testified at a Congressional hearing that she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by her co-workers in 2005. Three years later, KBR and the military have failed to punish the perpetrators or provide redress for Jamie Leigh.

And now, also three years later, Karen Houppert of "The Nation" reports the horrific experience of another KBR employee who was viciously raped at a KBR compound in Iraq.

In the article, "Another KBR Rape Case" Houppert wrote:

" It was an early January morning in 2008 when 42-year-old Lisa Smith*, a paramedic for a defense contractor in southern Iraq, woke up to find her entire room shaking. The shipping container that served as her living quarters was reverberating from nearby rocket attacks, and she was jolted awake to discover an awful reality. "Right then my whole life was turned upside down," she says

That dawn, naked, covered in blood and feces, bleeding from her anus, she found a US soldier she did not know lying naked in the bed next to her: his gun lay on the floor beside the bed, she could not rouse him and all she could remember of the night before was screaming and screaming as the soldier anally penetrated her while a colleague who worked for defense contractor KBR held her hand--but instead of helping her, as she had hoped, he jammed his penis in her mouth.

Over the next month and a half, she says, she faced a series of hurdles. She would be discouraged from reporting the incident by several KBR employees, she says. She would be confused by the lack of any written medical protocol for sexual assault (as the only medical person on site, she treated herself with doxycycline). She would wander through a tangled maze of interviews with KBR and Army investigators about the incident without any clear explanation of her rights. She would be asked to sign several documents agreeing not to publicly discuss the incident, she says. She describes having her computer--which she saw as her lifeline, her main access to the outside world--confiscated by KBR staff as "evidence" within hours of receiving her first e-mail from a stateside lawyer she had reached out to for help.

And eventually she would find herself temporarily assigned to sleeping quarters between two Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officials, who, she says, assured her that it was for her own safety, since her alleged assailants were at the same camp for questioning; they roamed freely. When she wanted to move about the camp to get meals etc., she was escorted.

Smith felt very alone. But she was not.

In fact, a growing number of women employees working for US defense contractors in the Middle East are coming forward with complaints of violence directed at them. As the Iraq War drags on, and as stories of US security contractors who seem to operate with impunity continue to emerge (like Blackwater and its deadly attack against Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007), a rash of new sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints are being lodged against overseas contractors--by their own employees. Todd Kelly, a lawyer in Houston, says his firm alone has fifteen clients with sexual assault, sexual harassment and retaliation complaints (for reporting assault and/or harassment) against Halliburton and its former subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC (KBR), as well as Cayman Island-based Service Employees International Inc., a KBR shell company. (While Smith is technically an SEII employee, she is supervised by KBR staff as a KBR employee.)"

* The name Lisa Smith is a pseudonym

Since Jamie Leigh spoke out, 38 U.S. women, all contract employees in Iraq, have come forward to report crimes of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Halliburton/KBR has failed to protect the safety of its contract employees, and, in fact, has fostered an environment wherein sexual violence is accepted. Moreover, the company requires employees to sign a private arbitration agreement, forcing them to give up their right to sue the company or have a trial by jury.

"Halliburton is trying to force this into a secret proceeding, which will do nothing to prevent continued abuses of this nature," Jamie Leigh told Congress. "The United States government has to provide people with their day in court when they have been raped and assaulted by other American citizens."

Due to Halliburton/KBR's pattern of fraudulent and abusive behavior, including fostering a work environment conducive to violence against its own employees, we let's call upon Mr. Robert Kittel, Suspension and Debarment Official of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency, to debar Halliburton/KBR from future contracts in Iraq.

1. Click here to read CODEPINKer Medea Benjamin's letter to Mr. Kittel (

2. Click here to send your own letter using this sample email

3. Please also sign this petition in support of the Jamie Leigh Act of 2008, which mandates that companies report criminal violations and provide this information to new employees. (

For more information, please read the recent New York Times article, "Limbo for U.S. Women Reporting Iraq Assaults" ( and see

Other actions that you can take:

Volunteer your time or services

Please email your name, address, phone number and how you wish to help to

    • encourage more stringent jurisdictional guidelines for criminal prosecutions of criminal contractors who work outside of the territorial limits of the United States.
    • create a protocal for forensic examinations on government contractor victims.

Thank you for helping women hold abusive companies accountable and provide justice to courageous women.

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