SEX CRIMES UNIT
Directed by: Lisa F. Jackson
HBO has always been known for delivering quality documentaries to the public. HOW TO LIVE AND DIE IN OREGON, THE NINE LIVES OF MARION BARRY and ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED have all been top shelf entertainment with a socially impacting message. The latest in the channel’s summer series is SEX CRIMES UNIT, an absorbing look inside the nation’s first office solely dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults. It’s emotionally affecting and leaves the viewer with an overwhelming sense of hope that someone knows – and more importantly cares about – what they are doing.
The documentary follows three cases from their report through their outcome: The People v. Vincent Zambrano, a case of the kidnapping and rape of a drunk girl at a club; The People v. Kevin Rios, a stunning case of a gang rape of a prostitute; and The People v. Torkieh Sadagheh, a shocking case of a cab driver who rapes a stripper and then later that night a female passenger. It’s an unflinching look into the justice system. We get to see interviews the District Attorneys conduct with the Medical Examiner, how the DAs present their cases to the jury, and also how some of these cases don’t even make it to the trial phase – as some perps plead guilty.
The film cross cuts between the department’s everyday goings-on with historical facts about the how our laws in regards to sexual assaults came to be, how they’ve changed over the years, and the gaping holes still left to fill. This is all courtesy of the two outstanding people who helped to revolutionize the justice system: Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and the unit’s first chief Linda Fairstein. Our laws, which have only been around since 1975, need constant adjusting as rape kits keep piling up (there is a 15,000 kit backlog in NYC alone).
At the heart of SEX CRIMES UNIT is Natasha Alexenko, who was attacked and raped at gunpoint while entering her New York City apartment building. She survived, but her assailant went free. Understandably, it changed her forever. She is the film’s bravest soul and led the way for a groundbreaking case regarding prosecuting with DNA evidence. “This is not the definition of who you are,” she states.
Everyone (especially females) should watch this powerful film. It’s an informative education on something that is unfortunately becoming more and more of a prevalent crime (one in six women will be the victim of sexual assault). Filled with hope, it also captures some very lighthearted moments from the unit’s District Attorneys: Discussing ROCK OF LOVE; fretting over a child’s college financing; talking baseball; obsessing about their weight. It’s a perfectly paced, groundbreaking documentary.
5 out of 5
SEX CRIMES UNIT premiered at The Los Angeles Film Festival on June 18 with an encore presentation on June 19. It will be shown on HBO starting on June 20.