It was an early January morning in 2008 when 42-year-old Lisa Smith*, a paramedic for a defense contractor in southern Iraq, woke up to find her entire room shaking. The shipping container that served as her living quarters was reverberating from nearby rocket attacks, and she was jolted awake to discover an awful reality. "Right then my whole life was turned upside down," she says. [..NSFW description of Smith's rape]
Over the next few weeks Smith would be told to keep quiet about the incident by a KBR supervisor. The camp's military liaison officer also told her not to speak about what had happened, she says. And she would follow these instructions. "Because then, all of a sudden, if you've done exactly what you've been instructed not to do--tell somebody--then you're in danger," Smith says.
As a brand-new arrival at Camp Harper, she had not yet forged many connections and was working in a red zone under regular rocket fire alongside the very men who had participated in the attack. (At one point, as the sole medical provider, she was even forced to treat one of her alleged assailants for a minor injury.) She waited two and a half weeks, until she returned to a much larger facility, to report the incident. "It's very easy for bad things to happen down there and not have it be even slightly suspicious."
Over the next month and a half, she says, she faced a series of hurdles. She would be discouraged from reporting the incident by several KBR employees, she says. She would be confused by the lack of any written medical protocol for sexual assault (as the only medical person on site, she treated herself with doxycycline). She would wander through a tangled maze of interviews with KBR and Army investigators about the incident without any clear explanation of her rights. She would be asked to sign several documents agreeing not to publicly discuss the incident, she says. She describes having her computer--which she saw as her lifeline, her main access to the outside world--confiscated by Army investigators as "evidence" within hours of receiving her first e-mail from a stateside lawyer she had reached out to for help.
And eventually she would find herself temporarily assigned to sleeping quarters between two Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officials, who, she says, assured her that it was for her own safety, since her alleged assailants were at the same camp for questioning; they roamed freely. When she wanted to move about the camp to get meals etc., she was escorted.
Smith felt very alone. But she was not.
In fact, a growing number of women employees working for US defense contractors in the Middle East are coming forward with complaints of violence directed at them. As the Iraq War drags on, and as stories of US security contractors who seem to operate with impunity continue to emerge (like Blackwater and its deadly attack against Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007), a rash of new sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints are being lodged against overseas contractors--by their own employees. Read on...