Friday, October 23, 2009

Apathy yields brutal results.

This semester I have been thinking a lot how laws affect women.  So many of the issues we discuss in the feminist discourse present the same problem: how do we challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes? We wonder how we can create a system of equal caregiving in this (relatively new) system of equal breadwinning, or how to challenge women and poverty? I’m constantly thinking about breaking gender stereotypes in children, as a way to create a more egalitarian future. We speak often of this “no problem, problem,” where the issues in need of address are so pervasive, that they go unseen.  As a classmate aptly put it the other day, the fish are the last ones to see the ocean.

Thinking about these issues, I often feel overwhelmed.  These problems are so socially entrenched, that any solution must be a massive, educational undertaking, probably taking generations to implement. 

The past two weeks, however, I’ve see glaringly obvious, and (relatively) curable injustices.  In our legal and social responses to situations that are uncommon and particularly heinous, we see the real problem: funding and energy channeled, not into social reform legislation, but into the legislation of easing corporate voracity. Two recent stories make this point painfully clear.

 Awaking the morning after a brutal gang rape by her coworkers, Jamie Leigh Jones was confined in a storage container under instructions from her employer (one-time Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, and denied access to a phone, only to later find that she had, upon employment, signed a binding arbitration agreement, thereby waiving any rights to a civil suit against fellow employees.  Out of court arbitration, with all details previously decided by Halliburton / KBR, was Jones’ only legal option.

 In another traumatic story, Christina Turner was denied health insurance for three years because she took an anti-HIV drug after being raped.  In this case, the “potential” of HIV, demonstrated by taking anti-HIV drugs after a rape, was considered a preexisting condition, making turner “uninsurable.” Nurses who work with sexually assaulted women say the insurance industry’s policy creates a serious problem:

"It’s difficult enough to make sure that rape victims take the drugs," said Diana Faugno, a forensic nurse in California and board director of End Violence Against Women International. "What are we supposed to tell women now? Well, I guess you have a choice – you can risk your health insurance or you can risk AIDS. Go ahead and choose."

Jamie Lee Jones is back in the limelight because of a recently proposed amendment.  This amendment “prohibits the U.S. government from contracting with companies that prevent their employees from accessing the U.S. justice system regarding rape and sexual assault claims. The main issue is that allowing private companies to present their employees with these contracts is repugnant to society’s interests in preventing and prosecuting rape and all violence against women.”

The amendment was opposed by 30 senators, who argued that companies need to have “freedom to contract” without government interference.  These senators are mischaracterizing the thrust of the amendment though; what it would actually do is block government funding of companies who continue to contract in this way.

The senators’ opposition to the proposed amendment is appalling.  We would never stand for laws that bar suits against child abuse, or attempted murder,  but somehow contracts barring civil suits for rape are allowed? The covertness of insurance company policies are equally disturbing.   California seems to be the only state doing something about it.  California alone requires data from companies on how many and why insurance claims are denied.  

Why are our laws protecting companies at the expense of individual victims?  Rape is clearly horrendous, and yet, we, through our lack of government involvement,  allow victims to continue being victimized.  Corporations save lots of money by treating employees badly or depriving people of rights, but when it comes to rape, we, as a society, generally agree that rape is intolerable.  Legislation reform for such obvious injustices seems feasible.  Why are people not pushing their elected representatives to make more humane decisions? How can America be so apathetic?  



Kathleen said...

I have not read too much about the Christina Turner case, but the ridiculousness Jamie Leigh Jones case got pretty extensive coverage on The Daily Show. [available here:]

Even though The Daily Show catches a lot of flak for not being "real news", the characterization also gives Jon Stewart the ability to say things major news networks won't. In this case:

"If ever there was a time for the unanimous passing of an amendment, the Franken anti-government-contractor-rape-liability bill would seem to be that."

The opposition to the amendment is disturbing, since the focus is on business relationships rather than the practical affects. Whatever the intent of allowing these entities to associate freely, if the result is barring rape victims from seeking relief in court, some serious priority re-evaluation is in order.

Erin S. said...

I think the opposition is all about protecting business's bottom line, with absolutely no regard for worker's rights or women's rights.