The woman at the center of the scandal that has hounded Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was granted a small relief by his decision to step down because it means she’ll no longer have to testify before a House committee next week.
Lawmakers spent part of last week reading transcripts — aloud — of a deposition in which she was grilled by the governor’s attorneys about her sexual technique and whether she was aroused by the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” in an effort to discredit her allegations that the governor photographed her without her consent and forced himself on her in his basement in 2015.
“I think it was extremely difficult because there are very personal facts that were being read into the record, the record that’s going to exist forever in state history,” said Scott Simpson, the St. Charles-based attorney who represents the woman. “She was doing her best to avoid the news and to avoid reading about this, so I’m hopeful that that helped make the process a little easier.”
The woman, known publicly only as "K.S.," was scheduled to appear before the House committee investigating the governor on June 5 for a hearing, which Simpson expected to be public.
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He said this “would have drastically altered her ability to stay private,” but he's hopeful that the governor’s decision to resign “allows her to get back to being just a private person.”
K.S. never wanted the details of her encounters with the governor made public, but her personal life was thrust into the spotlight after her ex-husband shared audio he had surreptitiously recorded of a conversation about the affair.
It was later revealed that her ex-husband’s attorney had received $120,000 from Scott Faughn, the publisher of The Missouri Times, around the time the information became public.
Lawmakers and Greitens’ attorneys have questioned Faughn’s claim that the money is his own. Al Watkins, the attorney for the ex-husband, has suggested the money came from a Republican donor with a grudge against Greitens.
“The fact is that somebody had an agenda,” Simpson said. “They were willing to pay $120,000 to advance that agenda. And they did it at her expense. And that was extremely troubling to her.”
The scandal has dominated Missouri politics since January, spurring criminal and legislative investigations.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner dropped the case shortly before a trial was set to begin earlier this month, but Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has been appointed as a special prosecutor, and her investigation remains ongoing.
“We don’t know what the special prosecutor is going to do. There is no deal with the soon-to-be former governor with the special prosecutor … which is the piece of the case that directly impacts her,” Simpson said.
Gardner’s office dismissed an unrelated computer tampering case against Greitens on Wednesday following an agreement with the governor’s attorneys and Greitens’ announcement of his resignation.
Simpson said K.S. was not warned about the agreement in the tampering case, which was separate from the allegations involving his client’s encounters with Greitens.
Throughout the four months that K.S.'s private life was put in the national spotlight, she endured all manner of attacks at her credibility, and hours of questions by lawyers and lawmakers.
Greitens' allies focused on the fact that K.S. maintained the extramarital affair even after the alleged physical abuse, and that she never spoke up or contacted police, as proof that the allegations of coercion and sexual violence were false.
"Consensual is the key. She kept coming back. That is not a victim. It is a participant," tweeted Jane Cunningham, a former Republican state lawmaker and ally of the governor.
During her testimony to Missouri lawmakers, K.S. said she's asked herself numerous times over the years why she kept going back. It was a particularly rocky time in her marriage, she said, and Greitens had a way of charming her that "allowed me to just ignore any of those bad feelings about myself, in particular.”
“I didn’t want to think that he thought of me as just a whore," K.S. said of Greitens. "I wanted to think that he actually really liked me and wanted to have a relationship with me of sorts.”
Tina Bloom, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Missouri-Columbia who has researched domestic and sexual abuse for more than 17 years, said K.S.'s experience is "very consistent with the typical behaviors and reactions that people who work with survivors of abuse see."
An abuser will often alternate from being a charming person to controlling and violent, Bloom said, making it hard for a victim to end a relationship.
"It takes a while for someone to realize that their relationship is abusive," she said. "Part of the reason is it is just hard to figure out what’s going on. These partners, they can be charming, a great guy, romantic, kind, and then alternate that with violent or abusive behaviors. So it’s very confusing for victims."
Of relationships that involve sexual violence, Bloom said, half tend to last more than a year, and about half involve multiple instances of sexual violence.
The victims manage to end those relationships, she said, but it takes time.
"That’s the norm, rather than the exception," she said.
Fear of facing the questioning K.S. endured from Greitens' attorneys is exactly the type of thing that intimidates many victims from ever speaking up publicly, Bloom said. And it creates a no-win situation where victims are afraid to come forward yet face criticism for never speaking up.
"When you’re in an abusive situation, you are so alone and so embarrassed and convinced that this is your fault or that there is something wrong with you," Bloom said. "What we typically see with victims is rather than tell anyone, most may tell a friend or family member, but very few call the police or seek services. Part of that is fear and self-blame and shame and embarrassment. But they’re also afraid of retaliation."
Simpson would not comment on whether his client has spoken to Baker’s office since the Jackson County Democrat was appointed special prosecutor, nor would he comment on whether his client would testify if Baker files new charges against the governor.
“When Eric Greitens denied the allegations, he denied the ones that were the most hurtful to her, and once that happened she found herself in a story she didn’t want to be in and faced with a decision of … ‘Do I sit back and let him call me a liar?’ ” Simpson said. “And it’s unfortunate she was ever in that situation.”