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November/ December 2013 The War of Rape

What happened to Jamie Leigh Jones in Iraq?

By Stephanie Mencimer

In 2002, Jones’s father took her to a doctor after she claimed that her boyfriend had raped her in her car a few days earlier while parked near the Boardwalk in Galveston. After the attack, Jones said, she drove her boyfriend to his trailer home in Spring, Texas, eighty miles away, where he raped her again. Jones claimed the attack left her bruised and bleeding, though the exam turned up no evidence of any injuries, and doctors told Jones it was too late to take a rape kit. (A rape kit generally must be performed within seventy-two hours of an assault.) She never filed criminal charges, she said in a deposition, because “I loved him before this happened.”

Two years later, in 2004, after going to work for KBR, Jones began a relationship with her boss, Eric Iler, a man nearly twice her age. KBR barred such relationships, but the two ignored the policy. (In her lawsuit, Jones alleges that Iler coerced her into sexual relations using his power as her boss.) Photos from that time show a smiling Jones deer-hunting with Iler. She accompanied him to his high school reunion. When his father died, she went to the funeral, and afterward accompanied him to his mother’s house. Over Thanksgiving in 2004, when Jones was recovering from breast implant surgery, Iler says he brought her food.

Not long afterward, in December 2004, Jones went to her doctor and claimed that Iler had raped her. She requested a rape kit then, too, but was told, again, that it was too late to take one. Even after telling doctors that she’d been raped, Jones continued seeing Iler for several months. They broke up in early 2005, but after she came back from Iraq, Iler says they hung out and went shopping one day. Jones even sent Iler photos of her friend’s babies and artwork she’d done. Iler, who vehemently denies the rape allegation, says he had no idea that Jones claimed he’d raped her until she filed her lawsuit against KBR and named him as a defendant.

After Jones returned from Iraq in August 2005, she sought out lawyers, therapists, and psychiatrists. She immediately started writing letters to members of Congress about her plight, particularly to Representative Ted Poe, the Texas congressman she credited with springing her from imprisonment in the shipping container in Iraq. Poe would become her leading advocate and repeatedly appear on television as her surrogate. She filed claims for workers’ compensation and a sexual discrimination complaint against KBR with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She requested arbitration with KBR.

During extensive therapy sessions, Jones complained that she suffered from insomnia, panic attacks, and flashbacks. She was unable to drive, and couldn’t even go to the mailbox alone. She said she would flee Walmart if men looked at her the wrong way. She would go to therapy only if her mother came. Eventually, at least a half-dozen mental health professionals, including two working for KBR’s workers’ comp insurer, would diagnose her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and deem her unable to work.

Meanwhile, Jones was remarkably busy. Even as she was reporting to mental health professionals that she was totally debilitated with PTSD and essentially unable to function normally, she enrolled in school online, getting As and Bs, and eventually earned both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA. She started teaching in a private religious school. She started dating a man in her apartment building, and married him in September 2006. Meanwhile, she was in regular contact with the State Department investigator who was preparing her case for prosecutors in Florida, where Bortz had his official residence.

Jones also started writing a book called Deserted: Raped at War and the War of Rape, the Jamie Leigh Jones Story, which she copyrighted in early 2007. Even before her first public interview, Jones had sold the rights to her story. She would later collaborate with Patricia Meyer, an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter who has written screenplays for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions and produced the ABC miniseries The Women of Brewster Place, starring Oprah Winfrey. Together they drafted a script for a docudrama producer who planned to make a movie out of it.

After Jones became a media sensation, she got a New York agent who found an accomplished ghostwriter to help with her book. In a draft proposal, she declared that Senator Al Franken had promised to write the introduction. Jones also started a foundation dedicated to helping other women working as contractors overseas who have been victims of crime.

In early 2007, KBR offered Jones $20,000 to settle her case. Facing the prospect of unfavorable odds before a KBR arbitrator and the high cost and even longer odds of fighting to get out of arbitration, her lawyer, George E. “Buck” Cire, urged her to take it. But Jones refused, fired Cire, and through the National Crime Victim Bar Association connected with a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer named Stephanie Morris. She, in turn, brought in Paul Waldner, a former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and Todd Kelly, a former Marine and medical malpractice lawyer.

The lawsuit Jones filed in a Houston federal court in May 2007 went well beyond the sexual discrimination filings made by Cire to the EEOC and in a request for arbitration. It charged that KBR was guilty of a massive pattern of unchecked sexual discrimination and assault—information the company had negligently hidden from potential employees like Jones. The suit named as defendants the company, Eric Iler, and “several John Doe rapists.” The lawsuit also raised new charges not included in Jones’s previous legal filings: that Jones had been pressured into a sexual relationship with Iler in order to keep her job, and that KBR retaliated against her for reporting her rape by imprisoning her in a shipping container.

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Rallying cry: After claiming she’d been violently raped while working as a contractor for a former Halliburton subsidiary in Iraq, Jamie Leigh Jones, right, became a cause célèbre in the media.

Jones, meanwhile, continued her publicity campaign. In May 2007, she sent letters to members of Congress complaining that she’d been gang-raped in Iraq and that the government refused to do anything about it. Six months later, she was on 20/20.

Women alleging rape often find themselves on trial. For centuries, the courts have allowed testimony about a victim’s sexual history as a way for men to prove an accuser’s “loose moral character,” as Susan Brownmiller explained her seminal 1975 work, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. She described a legal culture infused for centuries by the wisdom of the likes of Matthew Hale, a seventeenth-century jurist who famously wrote, “Rape is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent.” Officially, the U.S. Justice Department estimates that more than 200,000 women report being sexually assaulted every year, but that figure is assumed to be vastly lower than the actual count. Justice Department surveys suggest that more than 50 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement.

Stephanie Mencimer is a reporter at Mother Jones and a contributing editor at the Washington Monthly.

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