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Why Do Prosecutors Reject Sexual Assault Cases?


Weather: Mostly cloudy, with a little sun and maybe an afternoon shower. High in the low 80s.

Alternate-side parking: Suspended through Wednesday for Eid al-Adha.


The #MeToo movement raised hopes that people who committed sexual assault would be held accountable more often. But after examining years of crime and prosecution data, and speaking to women who said they were assaulted, my colleague Jan Ransom found that little has changed in the way the criminal justice system in New York City deals with rape accusations.

In part, that may be because there are inherent challenges in prosecuting sexual assault, particularly when the attacker is not a stranger and alcohol is involved. Some experts believe that prosecutors are still unwilling to wade through those challenges.

“At the end of the day, if the perception is that lawyers in our office are short, or in anyway disrespectful to victims — that’s unacceptable,” said Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney. “We as an office need to deal with it and educate our assistants on how to be better at their interactions with survivors and victims.”

[Prosecutors in New York City struggle to prove sexual assault accusations.]

Most New York City prosecutors’ offices rejected a greater share of sex crime cases in 2019, the last year for which reliable data is available, than they did roughly a decade earlier. That’s particularly the case in Manhattan, where prosecutors dropped 49 percent of sexual assault cases in 2019 — an increase from 37 percent in 2017, state data shows.

The data excludes most sex crimes against children and certain nonviolent offenses like stalking.

The number of rape reports made to the police jumped by around 20 percent from 2017 to 2019 in the aftermath of the 2015 prosecution of Harvey Weinstein, the former Hollywood producer who was convicted last year of rape and sexual assault.

Conviction rates for sexual assault cases are typically much lower than for other violent crimes: 44 percent of those cases resulted in a conviction in Manhattan in 2019, compared with 79 percent of first-degree murder cases.

Audrey Moore, a first assistant district attorney under Mr. Vance, said the office has sought to better train prosecutors about the effects of trauma on victims and how to approach cases of alcohol-facilitated rape.

The issue also became a focus in the race to succeed Mr. Vance, who is not running for re-election.

Alvin Bragg, the former federal prosecutor who won the Democratic primary in June, promised to revamp the sex crimes bureau. Mr. Bragg is heavily favored to win the general election in November.

He said he planned to talk to survivors and “reboot” the sex crimes bureau “from the ground up.” He also said that he wanted to evaluate why certain cases are rejected, and that the likelihood of a conviction should not be a determining factor in which cases the office pursues.


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The Times’s Jacob Bernstein writes:

One of the luckiest things that can happen to a restaurant is for it to remain open long enough to become a place that famous people used to go.

That was part of what made the March reopening of Balthazar, a SoHo mainstay since the height of the dot-com bubble, unusual. Jay-Z and Beyoncé turned up for dinner. Nancy Pelosi came for breakfast. Patrons made out at their tables, took trips together to the bathroom.

“People are horny!” said Jonathan Wynne, the bartender.

But all those shows have been upstaged by the one the restaurant’s 69-year-old owner, Keith McNally, is putting on daily over Instagram, where, instead of art directing his life, he has reveled in the mess of it.

After a debilitating stroke in 2017 made it impossible for Mr. McNally to speak normally; after Alina McNally, his wife of more than 15 years, served him the following year with divorce papers, he has staved off the humiliation of being a straight white goliath in decline by heaping it on everyone in his way. A Howard Beale for the Instagram era, he’s here lashing out on behalf of boomerish power lunchers who believe in a woman’s right to a safe abortion and oppose police brutality but are too scared to admit how enraged they are by a generation of absolutist woke whiners.

One minute, he’s uploading sumptuous shellfish shots. The next, he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

Mr. McNally, perhaps surprisingly to some, is a self-described “solid Democrat.”

He ridiculed Donald Trump and wrote admiringly about Monica Lewinsky, who had dined at Balthazar in June.

“Although I loathe Cancel Culture, I don’t intentionally offend people,” he said over email, his chosen mode of communication because of his difficulty speaking. “But as the great Thomas Paine once said, ‘He who dares not to offend cannot be honest.’”

It’s Monday — sound off.


Dear Diary:

It was some years ago, and we had four front-row, center-balcony seats for a Metropolitan Opera performance of “Othello.” A young couple who weren’t familiar with the opera accepted an invitation to join us.

During the taxi ride from the restaurant where we had dinner to Lincoln Center, we unraveled the plot for our companions. With four passengers in the cab, I sat in the front seat and narrated to the rear.

The cab’s arrival at the Met coincided with my recounting of Iago’s plot of the concealed handkerchief. I tried to hand the fare to the driver as we prepared to get out. He stopped me.

“No one is leaving until I hear the end,” he said.

Vern Schramm

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Read more Metropolitan Diary here.


New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.



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