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Friday, 1 June 2007

Alice Vachss knows how to make rape trials fairer for the victim.

The rapists' enemy - Guardian


"Alice Vachss was a brilliantly successful sex crime prosecutor in New York, winning 80% of cases. In Britain, the conviction rate for rape is only 5%. She tells Julie Bindel what we need to learn - and fast."

"Once one of America's most successful sex crime prosecutors, Vachss is in the UK this week, hoping to pass on her expertise to our criminal justice system. We certainly need it. With an estimated 47,000 rapes here each year, convictions running at a pathetic 5.6%, and much media coverage skewed towards anomalous stories of women who "cry rape", her visit could not be more timely.

In her mid-20s Vachss spent a year volunteering as a counsellor in a male prison. It was there she realised that, to help criminals, she needed to understand the justice system, so she took a law degree and worked as a public defender. After this, she undertook a project that considered the needs of rape victims in criminal trials. "They all said the same thing," says Vachss, "they needed a good prosecutor. So that is what I decided to become."

In the 1980s she ran the special victims bureau of the Queens district attorney's office in New York, and brought the sex crimes conviction rate up to an astonishing 80%. She prosecuted more than 100 serious crimes from referral to verdict, including rape, child sexual assault, elder abuse, domestic violence, cult abuse and homicide.

Vachss's war on sex crime has made her powerful enemies in the US. After successfully prosecuting an influential man - a former director of a boys' club - for sexually abusing boys in his care, she found out that he had done a deal with a supreme court judge. In return for pleading guilty to 89 charges against him, including the rape of young boys, he was told he would be given a non-custodial sentence so long as he agreed to tour the US warning about the evils of paedophilia; both he and the sentencing judge were to be paid speakers. Due to Vachss's persistence, the convicted paedophile was eventually given a prison sentence, but she was sacked shortly afterwards in a departmental "re-organisation". "Our district attorneys are elected officials," she says, "which leaves the prosecutorial system wide open to corruption.""

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