NYT Weekend Reading

By Christine Cupaiuolo — March 19, 2007

Have some time to spare? Head over to The New York Times website, where two lengthy stories deserve attention. The first is the Sunday magazine cover story, “The Women’s War,” in which writer Sara Corbett takes a close look at how post-traumatic stress disorder affects some women returning from Iraq. In many instances, their situation is complicated by sexual harassment and assault committed by fellow or commanding officers:

No matter how you look at it, Iraq is a chaotic war in which an unprecedented number of women have been exposed to high levels of stress. So far, more than 160,000 female soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, as compared with the 7,500 who served in Vietnam and the 41,000 who were dispatched to the gulf war in the early ’90s. Today one of every 10 U.S. soldiers in Iraq is female. […]

A 2003 report financed by the Department of Defense revealed that nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped. Perhaps even more tellingly, a small study financed by the V.A. following the gulf war suggests that rates of both sexual harassment and assault rise during wartime. The researchers who carried out this study also looked at the prevalence of PTSD symptoms – including flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing and round-the-clock anxiety – and found that women who endured sexual assault were more likely to develop PTSD than those who were exposed to combat.

Patricia Resick, director of the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD at the Boston V.A. facility, says she worries that the conflict in Iraq is leaving large numbers of women potentially vulnerable to this ”double whammy” of military sexual trauma and combat exposure. ”Many of these women,” she says, ”will have both.”

And don’t miss “Facing Life with a Lethal Gene,” the latest article in an ongoing series that explores the impact of new genetic technology on American life. In this story, 23-year-old Katherine Moser learns that she carries the gene for Huntington’s Disease. Now it’s no longer a question of whether she’ll contract the disease that has afflicted several close family members — but when.

Amy Harmon writes:

Ms. Moser is part of a vanguard of people at risk for Huntington’s who are choosing to learn early what their future holds. Facing their genetic heritage, they say, will help them decide how to live their lives.

Yet even as a raft of new DNA tests are revealing predispositions to all kinds of conditions, including breast cancer, depression and dementia, little is known about what it is like to live with such knowledge.

“What runs in your own family, and would you want to know?” said Nancy Wexler, a neuropsychologist at Columbia and the president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation, which has pioneered Huntington’s research. “Soon everyone is going to have an option like this. You make the decision to test, you have to live with the consequences.”

Both stories have posted audio clips of the women interviewed. There’s also a list of PTSD resources.

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