By now, anyone with a prurient taste for political scandal has read the investigative report engulfing Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
It’s 24 pages of findings describing a series of sexual assaults Greitens allegedly committed before he became governor — a far cry from the “affair” the married governor has admitted to. The report was released Wednesday by a special investigative committee of the Missouri House of Representatives.
But let’s set aside the political theater and hear the victim. She’s screaming a message America needs to absorb.
Page after page of transcripts contain the woman’s verbatim testimony under oath. It’s a textbook illustration of an assault victim’s reactions, many of them involuntary, as she sensed danger escalating. She also described the type of person who might commit such a crime — a manipulative predator.
A lot of women will relate — maybe not to the exact details of how Greitens allegedly coerced her into sexual acts, which are stomach-turning, but to the ways she responded. They will be familiar to anyone who has studied such violence: the woman’s seemingly conflicting answers, how she went numb, her rationalizations later, the self-doubt. Misunderstood, these behavior patterns are why so many women are not believed, which leads to others not coming forward at all.
Greitens’ victim was his hairstylist. He reportedly flirted with her during appointments, testing boundaries. He convinced her to come to his house early one morning to talk when his wife was away. She soon realized that she had stepped into danger.
She testified that Greitens blindfolded her and tied her hands to exercise equipment in his basement under the pretext of performing some sort of sexy workout together. But then he ripped her shirt open, and began kissing her exposed body, she said. She sensed a photo was taken of her, blackmail material. He pulled her pants to her ankles, she said.
“In my head I was screaming,” she told the committee. “I don’t want this. I don’t want this.”
But during the assault, she said she felt embarrassed and ashamed. She said the future governor called her a whore.
In one encounter, she froze, went “completely numb.”
It’s a physiological response more than anything. Fight or flight, most people understand. But to freeze is also a human response pattern, common during sexual assault. Victims also often do not recall events later in a chronological time line. Their statements may sound conflicting, as hers do in portions of the report.
Much of this has to do with the stress hormones flooding a body in fear, the effects on the prefrontal cortex. Uncontrollable crying is also a response. She did that, too.
At one point, after Greitens allegedly laid the woman down on the floor and exposed his genitals close to her face, she performed oral sex on him, rationalizing that if she satiated him, she might make it out of his basement OK.
Later, such behavior is often misconstrued to mean that the victim desired the act. And because the perpetrator is someone she knows, she’ll make excuses, even try to normalize the relationship, often being wooed back.
Predators know how to use this reaction, playing the gentle good guy when their victim is angry.
Thankfully, in recent years, the science around this has been growing. Police trainings that deconstruct traditional investigative methods are framed around the new knowledge. Because, frankly, a lack of understanding is why most assaults are never reported in the first place, much less investigated and certainly not prosecuted.
For this woman, there will be a continued public spotlight as the case against the governor goes forward next month. He is charged with one count of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a photo of her without consent.
But, unlike many sexual assault survivors, the woman has been found credible. The bipartisan committee that compiled the report believed her.