Tes­ti­mony re­veals truths about sex as­sault vic­tims

Austin American-Statesman - - NATION & WORLD - Mary Sanchez She writes for the Kansas City Star.

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 tes­ti­mony 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, a body heav­ily dom­i­nated by the gover­nor’s own Repub­li­can Party.

But let’s set aside the po­lit­i­cal the­ater and hear the vic­tim. She’s scream­ing a mes­sage Amer­ica needs to ab­sorb.

Page af­ter page con­tains the woman’s ver­ba­tim tes­ti­mony under oath. It’s a text­book il­lus­tra­tion of a sex­ual as­sault vic­tim’s re­ac­tions, many of them in­vol­un­tary, as she sensed dan­ger es­ca­lat­ing. She also de­scribed the ac­tions of 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 at ap­point­ments, test­ing bound­aries. She tes­ti­fied that he ran his hand up her leg to her crotch. 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.

Ac­cord­ing to her tes­ti­mony, 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, spat wa­ter into her mouth and be­gan kiss­ing her ex­posed body. She sensed a photo was taken of her, black­mail ma­te­rial. He pulled her pants to her an­kles and be­gan to sex­u­ally as­sault her.

In one en­counter she froze, went “com­pletely numb.” It’s a phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­sponse more than any­thing. Fight or flight, most peo­ple un­der­stand.

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.

Vic­tims will also some- times feel com­pelled to make bar­gains, to go along with what is hap­pen­ing to pre­vent some­thing worse. At one point, af­ter Gre­it­ens al­legedly laid his vic­tim 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 too of­ten mis­con­strued to mean that the vic­tim de­sired the act.

Preda­tors know how to use this re­ac­tion; coax­ing and coo­ing, play­ing the gen­tle good guy when their vic­tim is an­gry. That’s also de­scribed in the re­port.

For this woman, there will be 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 so many other sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors, the vic­tim has been found cred­i­ble. The bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee that com­piled the re­port be­lieved her.

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