August 14th, 2012.
Sometimes there is no easy ways to ask a difficult question. I thought about that as I knocked on the door of a woman who had accused a high profiled Republican fund raiser of exposing himself to her then grabbing her hand and forcing her to touch his penis.
When, I'll call her "V," came to the door, it is clear she had far too much on her plate, today, and likely everyday. She juggles a small child in her right arm, and a stuffed, plush toy in her left. Her long brown hair is clean, but I can tell, washing it was a monumental achievement, styling it, on the other hand, would loose the battle today.
"V" had the look of a woman who had just spent the last five minutes cleaning macaroni and cheese out of a borrowed CD player and praying someday it would play music again.
"Hi, sorry to bother you," I say as I try to comprehend what her afternoon must have been like, "Uh-huh," she says trying to wrap her mind around what a man in a sports jacket and another in casual shorts and a rumpled hiking shirt would be doing at her home at 4:30 in the afternoon.
"I'm Chris Jones from 2News. How are you?" I ask, as an uncomfortable smile mixed with embarrassment, reluctantly spreads across her face, "I know, why you're here," she says as she cautiously eyes me and bounces her 17 month old baby in her arms.
"First I want to say, I'm sorry you had to deal with all that." I exclaim, "All that," according to charging documents includes allegations that Greg Peterson, a GOP fundraiser, tried to sexually assault her at his cabin in Heber City. It's the same cabin where he raises money for big-time Republican politicians in Utah.
Peterson is currently in jail in Salt Lake County accused of raping and assaulting 4 other women.
Now is the time, when as a reporter, I'm obligated to ask a vulnerable, woman, a mother of 5 and a widow, if she would be willing to share details of one of the most disturbing, difficult days of her life, with me, and not only with me, but with thousands of others, on television.
"I know how difficult this must be for you, but would you be willing to talk to us about what happened?" I forced myself to ask.
"I don't know, I'm not much of a public speaker," she says brushing her hair out of her eyes, as if the camera might already be rolling.
"I know, but perhaps your story could help other woman who may also be victims of sexual crimes, if they find they can relate to your circumstances, maybe they will be wiling to come out, and tell what happened to them," I say.
I can see this approach seems to be working, "well, that is why I went to the police in the first place, after I saw the other reports," she says almost to herself, but then she begins to change course, "but I'm pretty shy, and I have my kids to take care of," she says as sh uses her forehead to point at the baby squirming in her arms. "And, I if he gets out, he'll know it was me."
I'm losing her, "well, we can agree not to show your face, or say your name." I pause, she thinks, but not convinced. "It will take about 10 minutes, and we could even disguise your voice, if that would make you more comfortable," I pause again, she thinks even more, but it's clear few of these bargaining tools are working.
"What's her name?" I ask as I take two fingers and tug gently on sleeve of the child's pink top, "M," she says, "relieved that I am changing the subject, "she's 17 months old," she announces more comfortable talking about baby stuff than sexual assault.
"Ok, so at this age they are walking right?" I chime in, not having kids of my own, "Oh yeah, she is all over the place," she proclaims proudly.
I offer "M" my hand palm up, and she enthusiastically slaps her tiny fist into my large mit, and smiles large and brightly, letting out an ecstatic coo.
Randy the photographer, standing by quietly behind me, ready to retrieve the camera as soon as I give the signal, is impressed, "she likes you!"
"M's" mother is impressed as well, she begins to see I'm kind of human, not just a face from the TV, trying to take advantage of her the way an alleged attacker did.
"M" wrestles with my finger, as I make a clicking noise with my mouth, that the little girls finds hilarious for some reason. She laughs as she extends both of her tiny little arms directly at my neck hoping I'll lift her and continue our game.
"So. What do you think?" "V" juggles the baby to her left arm, "Ok, do you want to come in."
Often times, particularly when dealing with sensitive, down right disturbing subjects like sexual assault, if an interview is granted, a little time to think is all it takes for someone to change their mind.
We are holding steady to our agreement, we won't show her face, and we won't say her name, but as Randy adjusts his camera so he can show her arm and my face only, I can see she might be having a change of heart, "V" is becoming uncomfortable as the Frezzi light on Randy's camera blazes on. I've lost many an interview at this point, I'm ready to accept it again, as "V" begins to ring her hands uncomfortably
That's when the baby, teeter's towards me, smiles broadly, lets out a giggle and hands me a mushy, baby sized handful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal that mom gave her to preoccupy her during the interview. "What in the world!" I say with mock shock, as I pretend to loudly eat the moist fistful of sugar filled cereal, "Num, num, num," I fake eat the stuff, the baby scampers off laughing loudly, as mom, gazes at her child, then at me, reminded again, that perhaps I'm not so bad.
Kids during interviews, particularly babies, present unique challenges. Since they are not aware of interview decorum, they will scream, run through your shot, or grab a sharp dangerous object just as your subject is beginning to share their most intimate stories.
"M" is no exception, as her mother recounts how she met Peterson, the baby, barrels towards the front door, that was left slightly ajar, and race out of the house, "Oh no!" she says as she practically rips the lovelier mic off her lapel, "Ill get her," I march towards the door, grab the tiny escapee and pretend scold her, "where do you think you're going, huh," as i toss her in the air, she cackles with joy and "V" smiles, relaxes, and finishes the interview.
I thank "V" for sharing her story with us, and as I head out the door, "M" reaches towards me, arms extended full, I grab her out of her mothers, arms (probably inappropriate) toss her in the air one more time, "goodbye baby, goodbye!" I say as she smiles at me, then her mother, the woman she put at ease long enough to tell a frightening tale.