told the audience Tuesday during the O’Keeffe series’ season-ending talk at The Society of the Four Arts.
For one thing, until the mid-1970s, “the law kept women out of the courtroom,” she said.
A rape victim wasn’t allowed to testify until her evidence was corroborated by three other sources. American courts didn’t accept DNA evidence until 1989. Fairstein’s and her unit’s pioneering work inspired Law & Order: SVU, now in its 19th season.
She’s a bit envious of the TV attorneys. “They can solve every crime in 43 minutes on TV,” she said. “It took us a bit longer.”
The first high-profile crime Fairstein prosecuted was a 1977 case involving a dentist who was charged with sexually assaulting his patients while they were under sedation. The dentist claimed the victims’ accounts were the result of hallucinations caused by the medication.
Investigators installed a camera in the air conditioning duct above the dentist’s treatment room. It was the first time that video surveillance had been used in an investigation in the United States, Fairstein said.
A female detective with an abscessed tooth volunteered to go undercover as a patient as her colleagues taped footage of the dentist attempting to molest her.
This was long before the #MeToo movement turned unwanted sexual advances into mainstream media news.
“We could not get the New York Times to even write about it in 1977, because they said they couldn’t get their readers interested in it,” Fairstein said. The case was sensationalized in the tabloids instead.
Fairstein is of two minds when it comes to the #MeToo movement.
“I am pleased when anyone who’s been a victim comes forward, but I’m horrified that the media is the place where a lot of these cases are adjudicated,” she said.
She’s also distressed that borderline incidents of sexual misconduct are lumped together with serious crimes, she said.
Her 30 years as a prosecutor gave her ample background for her second career. She’s written 19 books featuring Manhattan district attorney Alexandra Cooper, who the author described as “a younger, thinner and blonder” version of herself. A New York landmark figures as the crime scene in each book.
The series debuted in 1996, while Fairstein was still employed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Cooper is hot on the trail of her 20th case. The new book, set at The Rockefeller University medical research institute in New York, will be titled Blood Oath.
“But I don’t have much more now,” the author said. “I haven’t even killed anyone yet.”
Linda Fairstein, former chief of the sex crimes unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan, spoke Tuesday at The Society of the Four Arts.