Roundup: Employees of US Contractor in Afghanistan Accused of Sex Trafficking

Jodi Jacobson

News analysts continue to debate fallout from health reform speech outburst by Joe Wilson; gender identity of South African athlete publicly discussed; US private security contractor in Afghanistan accused of sex trafficking.

U.S. Private Security Contract Firm in Afghanistan Accused of Turning a Blind Eye to Trafficking in Women by Employees

It appears that during a time when the Bush Administration was making
headlines by proclaiming its concerns for trafficking in women
worldwide, the State Department failed to investigate claims that paid
contractors in Afghanistan were "purchasing" and selling women for sex.

Both National Public Radio (NPR) and CNN
have both reported that a former manager for ArmorGroup, North America,
the private contractor that provides guards for the U.S. Embassy in
Afghanistan is suing the contractor for wrongful termination after he
said he tried to
blow the whistle more than a year ago about inadequate staffing and
improper behavior by guards, including going to brothels and sex
trafficking.

ArmorGroup is owned by Wackenhut
Services Inc., a U.S.-based firm.  The same company continues to guard
the U.S. Embassy, a contract worth more than $180 million a year.

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The former manager, James Gordon, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Thursday claiming
he was forced from his job illegally in February 2008 after he asked the company and the U.S. State
Department to investigate activities in Kabul by the company’s guards,
but there was no follow-up investigation.

Gordon’s suit seeks back pay and unspecified punitive damages, and follows separate
reports last week by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) that the contractor allowed
mistreatment, sexual activity and intimidation within the ranks of
private guards hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

Last week, POGO released photographs showing raucous partying and sexual hazing by
private embassy guards. POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and briefed reporters on its findings, which it said
were based on e-mails and interviews with more than a dozen guards who
have worked at the U.S. compound in Kabul.  The State Department called the behavior shown in the photos
"disgusting" and launched several investigations and said it had
removed some of the private guards from the country.

According to CNN, State Department Spokesman P.J Crowley said in his daily briefing in
Washington that the department had "aggressively overseen" the contract
for embassy guards and had issued nine so-called "cure notices" to
correct specific deficiencies since the contract began in 2007.

Crowley said State Department officials had
interviewed more than 150 guards since pictures were released last week
by the watchdog group, and that a total of 16 people had been kicked
out of the country.

But Crowley would not comment on the new
claims that private guards had patronized brothels and allegedly been
involved in sex trafficking, with Crowley saying he would not discuss
any matters that might be under litigation.

In his lawsuit Gordon said one employee "had to be forcibly removed from a brothel in Kabul during working hours."

Gordon said he tried to have that person dismissed but found other
ArmorGroup personnel, including "the AGNA medic and the program manager
himself had frequented the brothels with him."

"On the heels of
this incident I learned that there had been an outbreak of sexually
transmitted disease among AGNA guards in 2007 that had never been
reported as required to the State Department, and that the guard force
routinely frequented brothels," Gordon said Thursday.

Gordon
said the company resisted "with outright hostility" his efforts as a
manager to impose a no-brothel policy. And Gordon said he asked both
the company and the State Department to investigate whether guards were
personally involved in sex trafficking, and that to his knowledge
nothing was done.

"United States law, known as the Trafficking
in Victims Protection Act, prohibits contractors from procuring
commercial sex while working on the contract," Gordon said in a
statement. "Many of the prostitutes in Kabul are young Chinese girls
who were taken against their will to Kabul for sexual exploitation."

Gordon said a trainee had boasted that he could purchase a girl for $20,000 and turn a profit after a month.

"I immediately notified both the State Department and AGNA’s president,
and urged the company to thoroughly investigate whether sex trafficking
was occurring among the guard force … To my knowledge neither AGNA
nor the State Department conducted a follow-up investigation," Gordon
said.

At the same time that it reacted to the charges of sex trafficking,
the State Department has claimed that "at no time was the embassy in
danger," an assertion Gordon called "ludicrous."

"If you hire a guard force that is placing you at risk because of their
behavior, and is also inadequate with regard to the fact of language
difficulty between elements of the guard force, I don’t see how anyone
can say the government is getting what they are paying for and it
doesn’t compromise the integrity of the embassy itself," Gordon said,
referring to reports that some of the private guards hired by the
contractor were non-English-speaking Gurkhas from Nepal.

"If the
guards can’t communicate with each other, how are they going to
communicate in a disaster? How are you going be able to properly
respond to a scenario if you have to use pantomime to properly convey a
message to a member of the security force? It is ludicrous for anyone
to say that is a safe environment and an effective security force,"
Gordon said.

To date, Wackenhut has denied the charges.

According to CNN:

A spokeswoman for Wackenhut at its Florida headquarters released a
statement saying Gordon had resigned voluntarily and that his departure
was not tied to whistleblowing nor was there retaliation by the company.

"We found that Mr. Gordon’s factual allegations and legal claims were
overstated, ill-founded, not based on any personal knowledge, or
otherwise lacking in legal merit. We chose not to accede to the demands
of Mr. Gordon and his lawyers and instead to let them present their
case in court if they chose to do so," the Wackenhut statement said.

Gordon spoke to a Washington news conference by telephone Thursday,
saying he is working for another security firm in Kabul but declining
to give any further details.  Explaining his lawsuit, Gordon said, "I set out two years ago to see to it that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was protected. I am hoping that the public airing of this lawsuit will bring us closer to that goal."

Another former manager of guards in Afghanistan
joined Gordon during the news conference. The second manager, John
Gorman, is not involved in Gordon’s lawsuit but said he wanted to
highlight what he called fraud, deception and incompetence, as well as
what he called "sexually deviant behavior" exhibited by people hired as
guards in 2007.

Gorman, who said he is a former U.S. Marine,
also said he was forced out after he tried to spread the alarm about
embassy security.

"Knowing full well that our jobs were on
the line, we went to the embassy out of a sense of duty and
patriotism," Gorman said. He said he went to the embassy to report
problems after first complaining to ArmorGroup North America about what he called the company’s "inability to provide for the security and safety of the U.S. personnel."

"In any interaction I have had with corporate officials from AGNA, no
one — no one — ever mentioned or indicated a concern for the actual
safety of the embassy. The greatest and only concerns were the profit
margin."

Biological sex of South African athlete’s continues to be questioned

The biological sex of South African athlete Caster Semenya remains the subject of public discussion as Australia’s Sydney Herald reported that she has both female and male organs. Semenya underwent a series of tests to verify her gender at the world championships in Berlin, Germany, last month, where she won gold in the women’s 800m race.

According to the Mail and Guardian Online:

"Extensive physical examinations of Semenya (18) had shown the athlete ‘is echnically a hermaphrodite’. According to medical reports she has no ovaries, but rather internal male testes producing "large amounts of
testosterone".

"This is a medical issue and not a doping issue where she was deliberately heating," International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) pokesperson Nick Davies was quoted as saying.

"These tests do not suggest any suspicion of deliberate misconduct but seek to assess the possibility of a potential medical condition which would give Semenya an unfair advantage over her competitors. There is no automatic disqualification of results in a case like this."

Criticism of the public discussion around Semenya’s gender identity is growing.  The Mail and Guardian quotes Athletics South Africa (ASA) president Leonard Chuene as saying:  "These are insulting words that the media are using, but we are n the dark. We just don’t know what effect this information will have on her deep down.  This process is not correct."  The runner’s former coach, Wilfred Daniels, said he was appalled by the reports and added that she should have been briefed and the matter dealt with in private.

Sports association leaders have said that even given evidence of Semenya’s intersex characteristics she would not be disqualified because she is not at fault and "has not cheated."

African National Congress member of Parliament Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (former wife of Nelson Mandela) urged South Africans to come out in support of Semenya.

"I am listening to the news. I’m just extremely hurt by what I am hearing.  The poor innocent child is a victim of all this, and it is not of her making," Madikizela-Mandela told the Star in a report on Friday.
"I think it is the responsibility of South Africa to rally behind this child and tell the rest of the world that she remains the hero she is, and no one will take that away from her.  I do not understand how any sane person can blame this child for a iological problem which is not of her making."

"Mothers throughout the county, every mother and grandmother, should stand up and support the mother of this child and this child. She needs our moral support. We should tell her how proud we are of her. It doesn’t matter what she looks like."

Continued fallout from health reform speech outburst:

Commentators continue to discuss the fallout from the behavior of
far-right Republicans during the President’s speech Wednesday night. 
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson states:

House Republicans were particularly ostentatious in showing their
disrespect not just for Obama but for the office he holds. The outburst
by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina — who shouted "You lie!" when
Obama said his plan would not cover illegal immigrants — was only the
most egregious display of contempt. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the
House minority whip, fiddled with his BlackBerry while the commander in
chief was speaking. Other Republicans made a show of waving copies of
their own alleged reform plan, which isn’t really a plan at all. 

Also in the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker talks about the general loss of civility in Washington…

…not to excuse Wilson’s behavior, which caused him to become an
overnight Twitter sensation. His offense sets a new low bar. But as a
nation, we have entered a political era of uninhibited belligerence.
The civility we insist that we prefer has been in short supply at town
hall meetings, several of which Wilson conducted. 

…but then goes on to dismiss Wilson’s behavior as the uncontrolled
outburst of an otherwise "polite, humble and deferential" individual,
at least according to the nephew who works in Wilson’s office.

OTHER NEWS:

Columbus Dispatch: Baby abandoned at birth is eligible for adoption

SEPTEMBER 10

Christian Broadcasting Network "Void the Abortion Mandate" Campaign Launched



SEPTEMBER 9:

Treehugger: Contraception Five Times Less Expensive Than Low-Carbon Technology

Value Voter News: CSPAN Video of National Black Pro-Life Union Health Care Press Conference with Niece of Dr Martin Luther King Jr opening

Examiner.com Growing misuse of the Catholic teaching of common ground, common good

 

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”