In an interesting twist of the #MeToo and Ferguson movements, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens was indicted last week by a St. Louis grand jury on one felony charge of invasion of privacy stemming from a 2015 consensual extramarital affair but allegedly nonconsensual taking of nude photos for transmittal.
Newly sworn in St. Louis City chief prosecutor Kimberly Gardner, the first Black to hold the position, expressed that St. Louis must have confidence in their political leaders. Kimberly Gardner was elected in 2017, in the aftermath of the Ferguson uprising of 2014 following the killing of Michael Brown. Upon being sworn in, Gardner stated that since the uprising of Ferguson, the public has a new expectation for the role of prosecutor.
While the main focus of the #MeToo movement has been on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace, Greitens’ case fits within the larger picture of how powerful men sexually exploit women. If allegations are proven true, Governor Greitens intended to use the explicit photograph of the partially nude woman to prevent any derailment to his career.
And like many other incidents involving other men, Governor Greitens’ past sexual misconduct was kept secret. Greitens’ 2015 affair was apparently known to many politicians, presumably male politicians. As with many powerful men, Greitens was allowed to advance politically without so much as a whisper in public of any sexual wrongdoings. Greitens ran in 2016 on a platform of morality as a family man, proud father and husband. Since Harvey Weinstein and a host of other powerful men, who used their positions of power to sexually demean women in various ways, we are just being made aware of their past actions. And the public has a right to know about alleged sexual misconduct and wrongdoings, particularly of any politicians.
With the #MeToo movement and the sheer extraordinary numbers of women running for office this year, we may be seeing more charges brought against men in positions of power who abuse their power. In the past, a male prosecutor may have declined to present the Greitens case before the grand jury. Having chief women prosecutors at the helm helps to ensure that cases involving criminal sexual transgressions, particularly against women will not be overlooked. And Gardner, as with other women in similar positions, will not be reluctant to pursue controversial cases. As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I know that women prosecutors review cases with a different eye than that of their male counterparts.
While Greitens admits to the affair, he denies any other wrongdoing such as blackmailing the woman to stay quiet. His attorneys state the charge does not apply to consensual sexual activity. In Missouri, the charge is a 4th degree felony and Greitens faces a maximum of 4 years in jail. While an indictment is the initial step in a felony criminal case, it is a start in the road towards justice. Greitens is due back in court on March 16.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, frequent legal/political commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor. She is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center.