Lessons from a Sex-Crimes Prosecutor — by Heide Herrmann

My friend, Heide Herrmann, is a sex-crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (the same job I held before becoming an author).  She has handled some of the office’s most high-profile sex-crime cases, but is known for bringing incredible diligence, compassion, and good judgement to every case that crosses her desk. Heide is leaving the USAO to work for DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch.  Her recent Facebook post about the lessons she learned from the job really resonated with me.  In a few lines, she captured a lot of what the job is about.  Her post is reprinted below. Good luck with the new job, Heide, and thanks for making the city a better place: one day  and one person, at a time. — Allison

As I embark upon my last week as an Assistant United States Attorney, below is a list, in no particular order, of a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the last six years or so. Some more trite than others.

1.  You gotta fake it ’til you make it.

2.  Everything about being a prosecutor is scary as hell. And it’s how I now know how brave I am capable of being.

3.  When a person tells you that you can’t possibly understand how she feels, she’s right. But you should still try.

4.  I can’t fix all of the problems for all of the people I meet. But every day, there is at least one thing I can do to make one person’s life a little easier, safer or better.

5.  No means no. Unconscious means no. So drunk that she can’t walk or talk means no. If that seems obvious to you, good. Teach it to your sons anyway, because apparently it’s not obvious to everyone.

6.  If a car runs you down in the middle of a crosswalk, it’s the driver’s fault, not yours. But you still look both ways before crossing. Young women — please think about how much you drink, and whether you’ll still be safe if you have another, and another, and another. If a man assaults you it’s his fault, not yours, but I’d rather you never find yourself in that situation.

7.  Hug your children. Tell them how important they are. Talk to them, listen to them, love them, protect and appreciate them. If you already do that, good. Do it more. You’d be surprised how many children have no one who gives them the most basic care and kindness. I don’t want to tell you more, because then it’ll hurt you, the way it hurts me.

8.  There is no group of people more concerned about doing justice, protecting the vulnerable, and maintaining the highest level of ethical and professional standards than the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. I will always be proud to have practiced alongside these heroic prosecutors, and to have served the citizens of the District of Columbia.


  1. Mike says

    Heide, as a former prosecutor myself it is really interesting to read the lessons you took from the role. And thanks for your continued service at the Consumer Protection Branch!

  2. Stefi says

    Allison, with all due respect, the law is far more nuanced than Heide Herrmann suggests. Sure if a woman is unconscious of course she is unable to consent but “no means no” is just a mantra without legal meaning. There is no legal jurisdiction where there is a positive duty on a man to obtain verbal consent from a woman before he engages in sexual activity with her, nor any legal jurisdiction where consent can only be expressed verbally. Sometimes a woman can say no and change her and sometimes a woman can say no but her actions say yes.

    I remember a case years ago where I defense counsel for a bouncer who worked for my brother’s security firm in club in Ibiza. The complainant was a 16 year old English girl. She gave the bouncer head outside the club. He had turned her face against the wall, kissed her neck then tried to initiate sex. She said no because he didn’t have a condom. He pulled her knickers halfway down, kissed her arse and licked her vagina and clitoris from behind, all of which she willingly consented to.

    But then he grabbed her throat, fondled her breasts and vulva, and entered her from behind without her express permission. She claimed to ask him not to. He doesn’t recall her telling him not to the second time and the security video clearly showed her place both hands on the wall and reciprocate his thrusts by pushing her vagina back into him. Then she asked him to pull out because she wasn’t on the pill, which he did and she finished him off by hand.

    The Guardia Civil dismissed her complaint because she had clearly consented through her actions and she acknowledged that the defendant had not obtained consent through intimidation or violence.

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