Dominique Strauss-Kahn hit headlines last month following an alleged sexual assault of a chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in New York City. Now what happens behind the scenes of these kinds of cases are the subject of the new HBO documentary, “Inside a Sex Crimes Unit.”
And yes, it is significantly different to “Law & Order” franchise which has made good use of the Manhattan DA’s office and local courthouses for filming purposes.
“It’s so glorified on TV,” Assistant District Attorney Coleen Balbert says in the film, adding that at times she’s had to convince security guards that she’s actually the real deal and needs to get into the building and solve real crimes.
Hollywood additives aside, “Inside a Sex Crimes Unit,” which is currently re-running on HBO and available on-demand, offers an unprecedented, detailed exploration of the country’s first unit solely dedicated to solving sexual assaults. Also included in the documentary is Assistant District Attorney Artie McConnell, who at press time represents the hotel maid in the high-profile and ever-evolving Strauss-Kahn case.
“I hope it shows the real ‘Law and Order,’ it’s not glamorous, they don’t strut around in Prada or have mahogany offices. I hope the evidence is encouragement for other victims to come forward, and I hope people in law enforcement will look at it and think how they can we do their jobs better,” Jackson told FOX411’s Pop Tarts following the film’s screening during the Los Angeles Film Festival. “I also hope young people in law school might consider this type of work a goal, and I hope a lot of the tenacious misunderstandings attach to sex violence will be looked at differently.”
But one thing the film’s main star, Lisa Friel, who was in charge of Manhattan’s DA Sex Crimes Unit, probably wasn’t banking on was losing the position she held for almost a decade as a result of the documentary.
Under state law, raw footage filmed for “Inside a Sex Crimes Unit,” which showed Friel and her team discussing the rape case surrounding former NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, should have been handed over to defense lawyers, even though it never made the final cut. However, Friel reportedly failed to so, and according to the New York Post, that mishap was the final straw that sank her.
The former lead prosecutor announced last week that she would be stepping down from the role, but it was not officially made clear what prompted the move and whether she willingly resigned or was forced out.
And although the filmmaker probably wasn’t intending any job shake-ups, “Inside a Sex Crimes Unit” has been brewing for a long time.
“I’ve been trying to make this film since 1996. Rape is such an unreported crime, victims don’t come forward because they don’t realize the laws have changed and the process serves them,” Jackson said. “I see how seriously these prosecutors take their job, and they see how the process of healing is helped by the act of justice. The biggest change is that a woman no longer has to have independent proof of a victim’s identity.”
In particular, “Inside a Sex Crimes Unit” illuminates the idea that female jurors are much harsher and much more skeptical towards other females who are victims of rape than their male counterparts.
“It’s part of the stigma that is still attached to rape, this idea that rape is something that happens to other people and those people did something to make it happen like ‘I wouldn’t have gone there at that time of a day or gotten into that car or gotten that drunk,’” Jackson continued. “It’s a very subtle thing that women don’t know they do, but they do.”
Jackson predicts American audiences will be most surprised to learn that in spite of the heavy subject matter, long work days and paper stuffed offices, the 40 investigators and prosecutors in the unit (who juggle at least 300 cases at any one time) aren’t afraid to engage in the lighter side of life.
“These lawyers are passionate, but they’re human beings. They rib each other, they obsess about reality shows, about their weight, they have babies, they love the Yankees, there is lightness to it and camaraderie,” Jackson said. “And audiences might be surprised to see just how often they smile and laugh out loud.”