Jamie Leigh Jones, a young employee for defense contractor KBR in Iraq, captured our national attention when, in 2007, she claimed to have been gang raped by her colleagues and then locked into a shipping container by KBR officials intent on keeping her from going public. Jones’ accusations touched on already hovering concerns about powerful defense contractors and the general atmosphere of brutality that stemmed from the war. It felt symbolic of everything that had been going wrong in Iraq. Sen. Al Franken used the case to force the Defense Department to refuse contracts with corporations that mandate arbitration for sexual assault claims instead of allowing employees to sue.
Turns out, it may all have been a lie. Jones lost her lawsuit against KBR, and now Washington Monthly has just published an impressive investigative piece by Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer, who has concluded that, based on the evidence presented in court, Jones probably made it all up. The extensive injuries Jones claimed to have suffered, including torn pectoral muscles and damage to her breast implants, weren’t in the medical reports taken by the Army doctor who examined her after the alleged rape, nor did Jones mention those injuries to her doctor at home. Jones did have to get her breast implants fixed, but the evidence at trial suggests it was for unrelated reasons. Under questioning, Jones denied ever having claimed to have been gang-raped, even though her extensive media appearances say otherwise. (The kidnapping claim was tossed from the get-go because Jones didn’t mention it when she initially filed a report with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission about her supposed ill treatment at KBR.) One juror, Paul Oldenburgh, told Mencimer that the jury wanted to believe Jones—that he personally came to the trial with bad opinions of KBR—but that the evidence suggests that Jones had consensual sex with one colleague that night and that’s it.
The most damning evidence against Jones is buried pretty deep in this 10,000-word piece. Long before getting around to the relevant, demonstrable lies, Mencimer writes about Jones’ history of apparent hypochondria, her history of repeatedly telling medical professionals she had endured rape, and even her chipper demeanor in the days after the alleged rape. Mencimer is creating a portrait of Jones, and as a piece of journalism, hers is very strong. But in terms of how we think about rape allegations, it’s discomforting to read, because these kinds of details only stick out if someone is a liar. Sadly, a history of mental illness and not behaving how people expect rape victims to behave are both things frequently trotted out to discredit actual rape victims all the time. Mencimer paints feminists who defended Jones as too blinded by ideology to see that they were getting taken for a ride. That may be the case, but that’s only because we’ve all seen the “bitches are crazy” defense lobbed at so many authentic rape victims.
There is no doubt that there are women who make up rape to get attention and sympathy, as I’ve written about here before. But the takeaway from Mencimer’s piece should not be that women lie about rape. It should be that this woman lied about rape.
Mencimer seems annoyed that Jones’ fake case led to real legislation protecting the rights of rape accusers, and that politicians who voted against that legislation were, in her words, “vilified.” But the 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.