In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones’ Halliburton/KBR co-workers gang-raped her while she was working in Baghdad. The company then detained her in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would be heard in private arbitration only.
Last month, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts if companies “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” Although the amendment passed, 30 Republican senators voted against it.
One of the Republicans singled out for especially harsh criticism following the vote was Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who has a track record of siding against women’s rights. The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reports that at a town hall meeting this past weekend, a constituent confronted Vitter about his vote. The woman, a rape victim, demanded that he explain why he opposed Franken’s amendment. Vitter refused to give her a straight answer:
WOMAN: It meant everything to me that I was able to put the person who attacked me [behind bars]. And what allowed me to do that was our judicial process. I showed up in court every day to make sure that happen
VITTER: And I’m absolutely supportive of any case like that being prosecuted criminally to the full extent of the law. [...]
WOMAN: But how can you support [a law] that tells a rape victim that she does not have the right to defend herself?
VITTER: Ma’am The language in question did not say that in any way shape or form.
WOMAN: But it is unconstitutional to have a law that says a woman does not have a right to defend herself.
Vitter then tried to deflect blame to the Obama administration, saying that it was also against the amendment. When the woman replied, “But I’m not asking Obama. I’m asking you,” Vitter retorted, “Do you think he’s in favor in rape?” Watch it:
Vitter’s criticism of the Obama administration isn’t quite correct. “While the Obama Defense Department raised concerns about the reach of the Franken amendment,” notes Stein, “the White House itself said it supported ‘the intent’ and was working to make sure it was ‘enforceable.’”