Messenger: Greitens escapes, Gardner retreats, and woman at center of consent case exhales | Tony Messenger

It was moments after Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner had dismissed the felony invasion of privacy charge against Gov. Eric Greitens, three days into jury selection.

“There isn’t a woman I know,” she texted me, “including myself, who hasn’t had an experience like this.”

My friend was talking about the woman at the center of the now-dismissed charge against Greitens, the one with whom he had an affair as he was kicking off his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. Greitens has described the dalliance as a consensual affair. But the woman’s testimony, to prosecutors, in depositions, and most publicly, to a Missouri House committee investigating a potential impeachment of the governor, describes an initial sexual incident with the governor that was anything but consensual. The central legal question, for now moot, is whether Greitens took a photo of the woman in a semi-nude state without her consent.

With the charges dropped, Greitens claimed victory. Indeed, it is one because jail time on this charge — he still faces a separate felony — is off the table.

For Gardner, the dismissal becomes a career millstone, dragging her down until the next election like the giant failure it appears to be. The charge had to be dismissed, Gardner said, because Judge Rex Burlison had endorsed her as a witness. But that was a situation of Gardner’s own making. She hired the wrong investigator. He might have perjured himself during the investigation. Serious damage was done to a case that from the beginning was circumstantial and now is non-existent.

For women like my friend, this failure of justice has implications much larger than the political career of one extremely ambitious man.

“We don’t come forward for all of the reasons this woman didn’t want to come forward,” she texted. “Because why would we? Why would we subject ourselves to this?”

In the context of the woman who found herself in the future governor’s basement that March day in 2015, the word explodes with meaning. She had nothing to do with bringing the case to the public eye or the prosecutor. With the help of counseling, she had already tried to move on from the experience. But forces outside her control — including her ex-husband — conspired to bring the story forward regardless of what it would do to her life.

In December, as reporters from multiple media outlets were trying to verify the details of the Greitens’ affair, the woman’s ex-husband texted her to let her know of the firestorm that was coming her way. The Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of the texts and verified their authenticity.

“You deserve all of it,” he wrote, adding insult to the coming injury.

This includes being victimized all over again.

“She was relentlessly beat up by the system,” says Scott Simpson, the woman’s attorney. His client was deposed by Greitens’ attorneys for nearly 15 hours, very little of it focused on the allegation key to the charge, Simpson says.

“They have searched her cell phone, subpoenaed all her financial records, subpoenaed her counseling records,” he says. “We know that there were private investigators following her.”

An army of social media accounts publicly shared her name and her photo, attacked her credibility, and as the governor allegedly did, called her a whore.

That’s the shame of Gardner’s failure, Simpson suggests.

“Other women may say, ‘Why would I put myself through this?’”

This has been the central theme of the #MeToo movement sweeping the nation in the past two years, with woman after woman who has been abused or harassed by a man in a powerful position finding the courage to come forward and tell their stories anyway.

Some of those stories led to criminal charges. Others — dozens of them — have caused powerful men to resign their positions. Just last week, as Greitens headed to trial, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned within hours of The New Yorker publishing an exposé in which four women accused Schneiderman of sexual abuse.

One of them, Manning Barish, said she came forward because the thought of her silence when other women might experience the same abuse was too much to take. She told reporters Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow that she had three choices:

“I can lie. I can be silent, which is being complicit, and a betrayal of the other women,” she said. “Or I can tell the truth.”

Simpson is sure his client told the truth. “I believe her,” he said.

A St. Louis jury won’t get an opportunity to make that determination, but a House investigative committee of seven men and women from all over the political spectrum already has.