The Sex Crimes Unit is a section of the District Attorney’s Office in New York City devoted specifically to that kind of crime. It is run almost entirely by smart, driven, strong women who believe fiercely in what they do. Unit Chief Lisa Friel and Deputy Unit Chief Coleen Balbert are the focus points in this documentary. There is a lot of talk about how the law has been changed to not allow as many perpetrators to get away. This has been done with some vocal lobbying on the unit’s part. For example, it is no longer legal to bring up a woman’s sexual history in court. This refutes the old condescending defense that a loose woman was somehow “asking for it.” Sexual history does not matter. Rape is rape.
Two cases emerge that become the central emphasis. One is a prostitute who was raped in a van. Realizing that her body had become a crime scene, she went out of her way to keep semen in her mouth so the perpetrators could be identified by DNA. The belief of the prosecutors is even a prostitute with a drug problem can be raped and deserves the full justice of the courts.
The other case is a woman, Natasha Alexenko, who was raped more than fifteen years previously. The statute of limitations is about to run out, but there were DNA samples collected at the time as part of a physical evidence box. The DNA itself is indicted as a “John Doe” so if someone who matches the DNA gets arrested they will be charged with the old rape.
The second third is so bogged down in legal jargon that it becomes monotonous. But the last third, when the cases go to trial, becomes more emotionally driven. Alexenko is especially moving because she has to rip open emotional scars from the past in order to hopefully convict and bring justice to her rapist. Balbert and her assistance is the charismatic glue for the documentary. Their New York accents somehow bring charm to their serious jobs, though this probably is just a non-Yankee observation of mine. Sex Crimes Unit is currently showing on HBO and is well worth a look.