Franken and "The Daily Show" say no to rape clause

Jon Stewart and company brilliantly take on the 30 senators who voted against victims' rights

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published October 16, 2009 1:17PM (EDT)

Not sure how we missed this on Wednesday night, but thanks to the joys of viral video, “The Daily Show” has once again made us laugh uproariously, shake our heads ruefully, and die a little inside as we consider the state of the world. In a segment  with the pull-no-punches title “Rape-Nuts,” host Jon Stewart introduced America to freshman Sen. Al Franken’s first bill before Congress: one that would deny military contracts to companies that won’t let employees who are raped by co-workers sue for damages. “Seems like a bit of a slam dunk?” he asked.

Not if you know that the bill came about largely as a result of what happened to Jamie Lee Jones. The Halliburton/KBR contractor says that while working in Iraq in 2005, she was gang raped by her co-workers, locked in a shipping container for over 24 hours, and told she’d be fired when she reported the attack. A subsequent medical exam concluded she had been vaginally and anally violated.

Halliburton requires employees to sign binding arbitration waivers, which means that all “disputes” must be settled out of court. But surely one could make an exception for assault, gang rape and imprisonment? Not so fast! As Stewart referred to it, it's “the old ‘it’s OK if you get raped’ clause!” Or, the “rape consent form.”

Cut to Rachel Maddow intoning, “The final vote on the Franken amendment was 68 to 30. All the nay votes on the amendment came from Republicans.” Cut back to Stewart, hand in his face, pinching the bridge of his nose in weary disgust. “How is anyone against this?” he pleaded.

He then showed a clip of Sen. Jeff Sessions, speaking on how “we should be looking for ways to utilize mediation and arbitration in these kinds of disputes.” Reminding us that “these kinds of disputes” are in fact sexual assault, Stewart said, “And I suppose Jeffrey Dahmer was involved in dinnertime arguments. It’s gang rape!”

But the coup de grâce was a short, scathing montage of four of the Republicans who voted against Franken’s bill, their righteous indignation all a-go-go over ACORN. Because ACORN, as Sen. Richard Shelby notes, “is not above the law.”

In four minutes and 42 seconds, "The Daily Show" managed to get the word “rape” on the air 10 times, cutting through all the euphemism and obfuscation to the clear-cut issue at hand. The Franken amendment passed because 68 U.S. senators understood that it was not about incidents or disputes, it was about violent crime. “If to protect Halliburton, you have to side against rape victims,” explained Stewart, “you might want to rethink your allegiances.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Broadsheet Jon Stewart The Daily Show Violence Against Women