The politics of women and warfare are famously treacherous, but the November-December issue of the Washington Monthly takes a few tough questions head on.
In the wake of the Department of Defense’s decision last January to eliminate the ban on women in combat, reporter Laura Kasinof examines recent studies suggesting that female soldiers are more likely to suffer from PTSD and other psychological disorders than their male counterparts. If those trends are true, why is it that women have a harder time in the battlefields, in the barracks and back at home? And what does it mean for the armed services at a time when more women than ever before are poised to take on combat roles overseas?
And in a narrative feature that reads like a novel, Stephanie Mencimer (a reporter for Mother Jones and a contributing editor at WaMo) investigates the sensational case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a young woman who claimed to have been raped while working as a contractor for a subsidiary of Halliburton in Iraq in 2005. After returning to the States, Jones became a media darling and cause célèbre as activists and politicians used her lurid, heart-breaking story to attract attention to the problem and pass legislation allowing the employees of government contractors to press charges if they were assaulted overseas. But over the course of her trial, much of Jones’ story didn’t seem to hold up. Was she lying? And does it matter?
Not being much of a television news consumer, I was only dimly aware of the Jones saga and the politics surrounding it. I can understand that some readers might worry that Mencimer’s investigation will undermine the “just cause” of helping sexually assaulted women.
But it’s clear Mencimer herself is worried that it’s the mendacity of the occasional high-profile accuser like Jones that undermines the broader interests of sexually assaulted women, and not just in war zones:
[T]here’s a strange paradox about sexual assault. The crime is massively underreported to law enforcement, but at the same time, a fair number of people lie about it. The best official estimates suggest that between 8 percent and 10 percent of all rape claims are false. And unfortunately, sometimes when people lie about rape, they lie spectacularly. Crystal Mangum did so in 2006 when she brought charges against members of the Duke University lacrosse team. Tawana Brawley did so in 1987 when, as a teenager, she nearly sparked race wars in New York by falsely accusing six white men, including police officers and a prosecutor, of raping her.
Still, as Amanda Marcotte points out in her post on the Mencimer article at Slate, the particular “just cause” which became connected with Jones was the right to be heard in court, not to “win” once there. And in that respect, the publicity over her allegations was hardly misguided:
[T]he law that resulted from the situation, which forces these cases out of corporate arbitration and into court, is still good legislation. After all, without the jury trial, we may have never known the truth of what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones. Score one for those who demanded that trial in the first place, even if it had a surprising outcome.