New York Prosecutor Speaks at Radcliffe

Laments Attitudes on Sexual Violence

Despite significant progress since the 1970s in changing how the U.S. legal system treats sex crimes and public attitudes towards sexual violence, much remains to be done, the bureau chief of the Manhattan Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit said in a speech at the Cronkhite Graduate Center last night.

Linda Fairstein, who has prosecuted such high-profile cases as the Robert Chambers "Preppy Murder" and the Central Park jogger case, said the criminal justice system has made great strides forward largely because of agitation and lobbying on behalf of women.

Fairstein addressed an audience of more than 50 students during her speech, which was presented as part of the Radcliffe Alumni Lecture series.

Before 1972, Fairstein said, New York criminal laws required victims of sexual assault and rape to provide corroborative, independent evidence of the crime.

"It was the only crime [where] the victim's testimony was not sufficient," Fairstein said. The case could be tried only if the rape victim had witnesses, for example, or had sustained an injury, she added.


Although this requirement has been eliminated, antiquated legal definitions of sexual crimes remain, said Fairstein.

"In New York state, the law still reads that martial rape is not a crime," Fairstein said. "Legislators have declared the law unconstitutional, but have not voted to repeal the law."

Fairstein said recent advancements in DNA technology and genetic fingerprinting have enabled prosecutors to identify suspects with a higher rate of success, confirm the identities of criminals and exclude innocent suspects.

"In the last five years, techniques have become more sophisticated," said Fairstein. With uniform standards in labs across the country, DNA evidence is now taken more seriously, she said. Fairstein highlighted sexual violenceas a growing problem on college campuses.

"The troubling thing is [sexual violence] hasbeen increasing in the past three years inColumbia, Barnard and NYU campuses," Fairsteinsaid. About 90 percent of these cases involvedrugs and alcohol, she said

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