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30 December 2007

OPINION - A Tale of Two Rapes

A young woman, in the company of men other than her family members, is raped. She is treated like a criminal. Only by appealing to a higher paternal figure does she get help.

In the case of one woman from Qatif who was 18 at the time, she was attacked at knifepoint and raped by seven men. She had broken Saudi law which segregates the sexes. She was riding in a car with a man who was not a relative in conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia. Her rapists were sentenced for the incident that happened in 2006.

In the case of an American woman, who was married and abroad, working with other Americans at an American company in Iraq, she was drugged and gang raped. Now over two years after the incident, the men are unlikely to be punished by their employer or by the civil courts.

Jamie Leigh Jones, a young woman and employee of KBR, the biggest military contractor in Iraq was 19 in July 2005 when she arrived a Camp Hope in Baghdad's Green Zone. During her first week there, she reportedly accepted a drink from a group of company firefighters. What happened next, was inexcusable. She woke up the next day and because she was bruised and bleeding between her legs, she went to a military hospital. There a doctor took photographs and prepared a rape kit that would be passed to KBR security police.

A day before her rape, Jones had requested safer housing feeling that living on the second floor in a coed barracks where she was subjected to catcalls and the women's bathroom was on the first floor was a "sexually hostile living environment." Her supervisors were unconcerned. Jones at 19, had already suffered sexual harassment from a supervisor stateside, Eric Iler, according to her lawsuit against Halliburton and KBR filed on May 2007. Only 19 at the time, she had done the responsible thing: She had reported it with evidence and requested a transfer. That transfer took her to Iraq.

Jones reported being taken to a shipping container under guard, without food or water or medical treatment. She was later able to contact her father when a sympathetic guard allowed her to use a cell phone. She spoke with her father who then contacted his US Congressional representative, Ted Poe, who contacted the State Department.

Her rape had been so savage that her breast implants were ruptured and her pectoral muscles torn. She required reconstructive surgery.

Since she went public, her Congressman Poe, R-Houston, said three other women have contacted him. Ten others made similar reports because Jones has again done the right thing: She formed a foundation to help other women. Unfortunately, KBR made arbitration a part of its employee contract and the evidence collected in Jones' rape kit which resurfaced in May, show signs of being tampered: photos and the doctor's notes are missing.

According to accounts by the Houston Chronicle the arbitrator found in favor of KBR 82 percent of the time. That coupled with the tampered rape kit makes Jones and the other cases likely to be a battle fought in vain.

This means, although Jones can name one of her assailants and the rape kit might have used DNA analysis to indicated who the other men were, it is unlikely that these men will be punished at all.

There was a great international outcry against Saudi law because the rape victim, nameless and only referred to as the Qatif girl, rising from the predominately Shiite-populated area of Al-Qatif in the Eastern province where she's from, was sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes for being in the company of the unrelated man. On Dec. 17, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pardoned her and the man who was with her.

The Qatif girl had appealed the initial decision in 2006, but the judge had only increased the severity of her sentence. The rapists themselves were at first sentenced to one to five years for assault but that was also increased in November to two to nine years. If there had been witnesses or if the men had confessed, these men who have received the death penalty.

The Qatif girl's husband has praised the King's decision.

While we as Americans or as women can rage at the thought of a victim being punished, although not for the rape--so it isn't a case of punishing the victim--we must also wonder what happened to the American system? In the case of Jones and the other women with KBR stationed in Iraq, they claim they were threatened with employment termination if they reported their assaults. More than two years after the incident, Jones hasn't seen justice. Poe told the House subcommittee: "Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge. The law must intervene and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored."

It was during that time, the time of the Old West when it was the victim's fault and the common wisdom was: She asked for it. In America, we like to think that Islam is backwards and unenlightened compared to Christianity, that modernization, justice for women and democracy are impossible under Islam. Yet the international community might see it differently when they see how Americans in an American company that isn't under Iraqi/Muslim civil law treats its female employees and how much these women must fight for justice.

Before we criticize another country, perhaps we should imagine how we look to the international community, and then we should consider how KBR and its men in Iraq are treating the Iraqi women.

This tale of two rapes makes it apparent that the world isn't safe for women in the company of men because some men still feel that they have a right to rape a woman for whatever reason--and this is despite the differences between Christianity and Islam and the nation states that are predominately guided by those respective religious principles.

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