Senator brings attention to sexual assaults

04/21/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Florida Sen. Bill Nelson says he will soon offer legislation that will require greater cooperation by military contractors and the Justice Department regarding sexual assaults.

Since last year, Nelson has been pressuring federal agencies about unpunished sexual assaults in the war zones. He became inspired to do so after learning about a report of a Tampa woman being attacked while working in Iraq for a defense contractor.

Nelson said the military generally does a good job if one of their forces are assaulted, but that the rules are undefined for civilian contractors.

Nelson held hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this month where two women working for contractors spoke about their claims of rape not being investigated by the U.S. government.

Dawn Leamon, who worked for a subsidiary of contracting giant KBR, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she was raped by a soldier and co-worker while working in Iraq as a paramedic for a contractor. Earlier this year, contractor Jamie Leigh Jones testified that she was raped by some KBR/Halliburton co-workers.

Nelson said the Tampa woman was given medical treatment immediately after being sexually assaulted, but he has discovered that many other woman were not so fortunate.

Nelson said this is aggravating, because the women don’t think their cases are being prosecuted. In the 27 cases brought to his attention, he says not one of the alleged assailants have been convicted.

When questioned about this at the Senate hearing earlier this month, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, said that was not true. Sigal Mandelker said she believed that there were "somewhere between four and six cases" being looked at.

Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor has also shown interest in this situation. She wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates back in January about the issue.

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