In 2005, as a 19-year-old fresh out of high school, Jamie Leigh Jones took an IT job with global military contractor KBR (a former subsidiary of Haliburton). At 20, seeking upward mobility, Jones applied for a transfer to Iraq. She was shipped off to Baghdad with, she says, assurances that she would be housed in a women’s dorm. Upon arrival, according to her testimony, she was issued a bunk in a predominantly male barracks, drugged, raped and—when she reported the assault to company medical personnel—confined in a shipping container and denied communication with the outside world.
Presumably, that flirting won Jamie Leigh the promise of severe bruising, lacerated genitals, torn pelvic muscles and ruptured breast implants.
A Texas congressman intervened to release Jones from the container and return her to the United States. Over the past six years, Jamie Leigh has pursued justice in the American way, going so far as to testify before the United States Senate.
Jamie Leigh Jones’s ordeal has finally come to an end—with a verdict that the brutality of July 28, 2005, was consensual sex and a court judgment that she owes KBR $145,073.19 in court costs. The court’s decision, on the face of it, might seem grossly unfair, but here are five factors that make it worse than that.
1) Jones’s So-Called Consensual Injuries: Jones’s complaint against KBR describes the plaintiff waking from a drugged sleep to find “her body naked and severely bruised, with lacerations to her vagina and anus, blood running down her leg, her breast implants were ruptured, and her pectoral muscles torn—which would later require reconstructive surgery.”
2) Further KBR Failings: In 2003, according to findings of the Defense Department’s Inspector General, KBR knowingly exposed U.S. troops and civilians at an Iraqi water treatment plant to sodium dichromate—an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer. Five months lapsed between the discovery of the problem and issuing “personal protective equipment.” In 2004, the families of 13 Nepali men went into debt to send their sons and husbands to jobs they had been promised at a luxury hotel in Jordan. Court documents say that job recruiters took away the men’s passports and shanghaied them to Iraq, to work for KBR. Insurgents ambushed a convoy trafficking the humans and killed 12 of the 13. In 2011, Women Engineer, a worker recruitment magazine, named KBR “a top employer for women.” At the time of that commendation, nine lawsuits alleging assault and intimidation against women were pending against the company.
3) The Hedging on Jones’s Day in Court: An arbitration provision in Jones’s employment contract with KBR—implemented in 1997 under then-CEO Dick Cheney—dictated that her rape case be pursued within the company’s binding dispute-resolution process, rather than in an actual forum of American law. Signing the provision was a requirement of being hired. KBR fought Jones’s right to a fair trial all the way to the Supreme Court. The company only withdrew its block in 2010, after the passing of a measure by Senator Al Franken that extended protections to defense workers who had been raped by coworkers. Thirty senators opposed the Franken measure.
4) The Victim Blaming: Jamie Leigh Jones is a lone woman, not yet 30 years old. KBR is a major military contractor, with billions of dollars in assets and powerful Washington lobbyists on its roster. KBR (which managed to lose the rape kit administered to Jones when she emerged from unconsciousness) is large enough not to need to fight dirty. Still, KBR’s official Website attempted to smear the victim, reporting that on the evening of the assault Jones had been “observed … flirting with one particular firefighter whom she had socialized with the night before.” Presumably, that flirting won Jamie Leigh the promise of severe bruising, lacerated genitals, torn pelvic muscles and ruptured breast implants.
5) The $145K Is a Fraction of What KBR Asked For: After a federal jury ruled against Jones in her civil suit in July, KBR filed to stick her for $2 million in legal fees and court costs. U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison dropped the legal fees but is holding Jones liable for the court costs, ruling that her lawsuit was not as frivolous as KBR alleged. Even if Jones’s injuries failed to rise beyond frivolity, the award to KBR sends a chilling message. Judge Ellison’s ruling is a deterrent against rape victims anywhere in America seeking justice.