How Women Won the KBR Rape Case
Whatever the outcome of the Jamie Leigh Jones trial, victims of sexual assault may now get their days in court.
Pema Levy – (The American Prospect) – July 11, 2011 – In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones went to work in Baghdad’s Green Zone for KBR, then an engineering and construction subsidiary of the defense contractor Halliburton. Upon arrival, she was placed in co-ed barracks where the ratio of men to women was 20 to 1. Four days later, Jones said that she was slipped the date-rape drug Rohypnol and gang raped by fellow KBR employees. When she reported the crime, Halliburton locked her in a shipping container for 24 hours without food or water, and barred her from contacting anyone outside.
Last month, Jones’ case against KBR employee Charles Boartz for rape and against KBR for knowingly sending her into a hostile work environment finally went to trial. On Friday, a jury found Boartz and KBR not guilty.
Jones’s story won the sympathies of millions; she now has a contract for both a book and movie, and was prominently featured last month in HBO’s Hot Coffee, a documentary about the corporate campaign to restrict access to the justice system. But at trial, Jones’ story fell apart. As Stephanie Mencimer reported in Mother Jones last week, KBR found experts and evidence that cast doubt on large portions of Jones’ story. Jones claimed, for example, that she had two sips of a drink and doesn’t remember anything else, but KBR dug up a report in which she admitted to having five drinks. No evidence of Rohypnol was found in blood tests. Jones also alleged her breast implants were ruptured by the violent assault, but the doctor who treated her the next day said this wasn’t true either. The allegation that there were multiple attackers was thrown out for lack of evidence, and prosecutors brought up that Jones had reported being raped twice in the past and had taken drugs used to treat anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
It is difficult to know what really happened, and the alleged attacker’s acquittal brings us no closer to the truth. But one thing is clear: While Jones lost her court case, the fact that she got a trial is a win for victims of sexual assault who, like her, had been denied their day in court.
Jones’ trial was about rape, but her story is about companies eroding access to the justice system. In the last several years, Jones had become the poster child for the fight against what are called “mandatory arbitration clauses” in employment and consumer contracts. The clauses, which employees rarely think twice about before signing the contract, require employees to settle their grievances against the company in arbitration tribunals instead of going to court. As opposed to court proceedings, which are public, arbitration is a private, secret process in which a judge hired by the company adjudicates. There is no appeals process, and the results are generally kept under lock and key. Increasingly, anything from employment to cell phone contracts contain mandatory arbitration clauses that block access to the courts. It’s estimated that 75 percent of non-union workers have binding arbitration clauses in their contracts, and that the majority of major companies—from hospitals to credit cards—have them as well.