Former Assistant US Attorney Explains Tech’s Role in Sex Crime Prosecution

Working as an assistant attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., for over two decades, Julieanne Himelstein has handled some of the most notorious terrorism cases in modern history. In one, for instance, she acted as co-lead prosecutor in U.S. v. Abu Khatallah involving the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

But Himelstein has also made a name for herself being a skilled prosecutor of sex crimes. As deputy chief in the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section at the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, she broke new ground with changing the way sex crime cases are tried in court.

In Himselstein’s experience, technology—whether video recordings in trial proceedings or forensics tools to gather evidence—played a central role in enabling her to successfully prosecute sexual molestation and harassment cases.

The former assistant U.S. attorney, who just joined Kroll as an associate managing director in its business intelligence and investigations practice, spoke with Legaltech News about her most important cases, why she moved to the private sector and her thoughts on recently passed federal sex trafficking legislation.

What will you be working on at Kroll?

I’ll be working in the sexual misconduct practice, which focuses on colleges and universities and the private sector. If there are any sexual misconduct allegations or sexual harassment allegations, I would be a part of [investigating] those.

What I hope to accomplish as I’m going through this program is to increase our business, because I do believe there is a huge demand for experts in the field who can conduct solid, comprehensive, independent investigations. In addition, I believe that we will be able to educate the public, corporations and their employees on what is appropriate behavior and what is not.

What was the most memorable case?

The most important case to me was a case that involved a 7-year-old victim who was sexually assaulted by her father. I put that victim on the stand and we had a jury, and the whole entire courtroom was packed because it was a very important case. But the little girl curled up into a fetal position when put on the witness stand and refused to answer any questions.

We asked the judge if it would be OK if we took that little girl into the empty jury room—out of the presence of her father, the defendant—and proceeded with her testimony, with the defense attorneys present, on closed circuit television. So everything would be in real time in closed circuit. The judge granted that request, and we were able to ask the little girl, who was no longer in the fetal position, questions.

That case went up on appeal, and the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed that practice. The reason this case is so important to me is because that practice has been used in many other cases, and it’s something I attribute to the successful prosecution of child molestation cases.

How important is legal technology in investigating sex crimes?

The hardest part [of prosecuting sex crimes] is gathering evidence. But forensic tools to extract data have changed the landscape of most investigations. Particularly in crimes which happen behind closed doors, in private, in places where no witnesses are present, and/or where the victim may be so young or vulnerable that he or she is unable to speak up, forensic science can speak as a witness and can corroborate allegations. At the same time, these same technologies can exonerate the accused.

What is your take on the recently passed sex trafficking law, which amended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?

As a former prosecutor, frankly, I completely agree with it. Having myself investigated numerous cases involving the trafficking of children, I know that many of those children are advertised on websites. And, although I understand the controversy, which is that there is legitimate content on those websites that have nothing to do with children, frankly in my view, if this law prevents one child from being hurt, then I am all for it.