Two important events in the criminal treatment of sexual violence against women took place yesterday.

First: Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a criminal complaint against Sedrick Leman-Issac Mitchell, aka “Gruesome,” charging him with human trafficking, forced prostitution, criminal sexual conduct (including rape), assault with a firearm and other felonies in connection with a criminal enterprise forcing two girls to work as prostitutes in Detroit.  According to the complaint and Detroit News:

Schuette said Mitchell enslaved two girls, ages 14 and 15. The 14-year-old was held captive in a house on Detroit’s east side for two months after Mitchell invited her to a party in July of last year, Schuette said. Mitchell is alleged to have put them to work as prostitutes, collecting money and punching and slapping them when they didn’t earn enough.

The release said in addition to physical assaults, Mitchell repeatedly sexually assaulted the girls and held a gun to the head of the 14-year-old on one occasion. The 15-year-old was choked when she resisted his sexual advances, the release said.

Second: Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel employee who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape at the Sofitel Hotel, spoke publicly to a number of media sources about the events that transpired in the hotel room.  Meanwhile DA Cyrus Vance struggles with what to do with the case.

Why consider these two events side-by-side?  Well, they illustrate how “regular” sexual violence remains difficult, if not impossible, for women to complain about.  The DSK case reminds us how the victim’s reputation and entire life are put under a microscope while the alleged perpetrator’s violent sexual history seem not to be relevant.  This contributes to a climate where prosecutors are under enormous pressure to drop or settle cases they aren’t sure they’ll win, and they hesitate before bringing high profile cases fearing that their own reputations will be tarnished along with that of the victims.  This is exactly what Cyrus Vance, the New York County District Attorney, is now experiencing.  Rather than getting a political bump from “being tough on rape,” he’s scurrying out from under the withering criticism he’s been getting for losing a case involving sexual assault charges brought against two on-duty policy officers, and for the DSK case.

At the same time that “being tough on rape” seems a losing strategy for many prosecutors, they can’t be tough enough on human trafficking.  The Michigan case is only the most recent example.  The new President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Rob McKenna, Washington State’s AG, just announced that he has selected Human Trafficking as the subject of his year-long presidential initiative, unfortunately naming the project “Pillars of Hope.”  “Innocent victims” of human trafficking – particularly sex trafficking (see the images used on the “Pillars of Hope” promotional materials) – seem to deserve aggressive prosecutorial resources and public commitment, while regular old rape and sexual violence remain almost a dirty secret that prosecutors take on at their peril.  Last April, the New York City police department reported a dramatically lower homicide rate, while during the same period reported rapes had jumped 24%.  Oh well.

It’s not that prosecutors shouldn’t take human trafficking seriously, of course they should.  It’s just worrisome to watch how rape not involving trafficking remains so difficult to complain about, prosecute, and prioritize.  Let’s hope that the increased emphasis on trafficking doesn’t make the situation worse.  It need not, but there is some risk that it might.


  1. New Gender & Sexuality Law Blog: DSK & Human Trafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  2. New Gender & Sexuality Law Blog: DSK & Human Trafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  3. DSK and Human Trafficking – Blogs @ Columbia Law School: First: Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette filed …

  4. DSK and #HumanTrafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  5. DSK and #HumanTrafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  6. DSK and Human #Trafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  7. DSK and Human #Trafficking: Thoughts On How Prosecutors Prioritize Sexual Violence Cases

  8. Blogger says rape unrelated to #sextrafficking is unprosecuted, praises NAAG's #humantrafficking presidential initiative

  9. Blogger says rape unrelated to #sextrafficking is unprosecuted, praises NAAG's #humantrafficking presidential initiative

  10. Ask a lawyer how human trafficking and sex slavery is defensible.

    Barrister Nicholls was paid in trafficking profits to defend major brothel owner and kidnapper David Greenwood.

    Reach her by twitter @BarristerAccess.

    She can be reached by phone listed on her website: Elizabeth J Nicholls

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