Oct 23 2009

The real bill

Published by at 4:42 pm under Idaho

Never enough any more, apparently, to argue on the actual merits or demerits of a specific idea: The obligation seems to be to press it beyond the point of reason. Even when the core issue seems to be on your side.

So we have Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Republicans, tagged (along with 28 other senators) as “rape nuts”, uncaring about whether women are sexually assaulted. The hook for that is their votes against a defense spending amendment, backed by Minnesota Senator Al Franken, aimed at barring military contracts with companies that limit employees to arbitration rather than other measures (such as lawsuits, or going public) to resolve claims “related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.”

The amendment came about because of a particular actual case in which an employee of (in effect) Halliburton, working in Iraq, was gang-raped and injured. After many procedural efforts, she has gotten her case, not yet settled, to court and public. The Franken amendment would have allowed her sue directly.

A Kevin Richert (Idaho Statesman) blog post out today outlines the situation, and Crapo’s and Risch’s responses to it, in some detail. But a couple more points seem in order.

What the amendment does is set a requirement and limitation on companies that seek to do work for the Department of Defense; it was not, at core, a referendum on whether rape is a bad thing.

Crapo and Risch have, as they have pointed out, ample public record (through state and federal legislative votes) for cracking down where they could on sexual assault; accusing them of being uncaring about that pushes the case beyond sense. Because the charge is so over the top, there’s a temptation to stop with that observation.

But what about the point of the amendment: That companies accepting federal contracting dollars should have to adhere to certain basic standards of decency? Look again at the language of the amendment, and what it is designed to prohibit – roadblocking the ability of victims to push back when they have been sexually assaulted, a requirement that they give up their basic rights as victims of crime. That would seem a shocking thing for Risch especially, as a former prosecutor who has prosecuted sexual assault cases, to endorse. The senators suggest (in Richert’s piece) that some time and efficiency advantages could accrue through use of arbitration; but nothing in the amendment bars the use of arbitration if the victims want to avail themselves of it – it simply prohibits making it mandatory. Such policies exist solely for the financial and public relations benefits of the contractors, not because of military security or because they do anyone else any good.

So draw your own conclusions here about who logically falls on which side of the debate here.

There’s a reality here that merits some open discussion. Overreaching accusations of rape-coddling don’t much help.

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