Sex toys talk, gallows humor about victims: Welcome to Contra Costa’s sex crimes unit

Rape allegations against a Contra Costa County sex crimes prosecutor would seem to be explosive enough, but the case is also shining an unflattering light on the workplace demeanor of some lawyers in the District Attorney’s Office.

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle looks at the charges against Michael Gressett, 52, a veteran prosecutor in the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office who unsucessfully ran three times for the job now held by Robert Kochly.

As the Chronicle describes, Gressett is accused of raping a younger, junior colleague on May 8, 2008. He apparently brought her to his Martinez condominium for a “nooner”–that is, a sex break during lunch hour as he awaited a jury verdict on a molestation trial he was prosecuting.

Gressett says the rough sex that ensued was consensual; the use of objects, such as a gun, ice picks, and handcuffs, were intended to be playful. He alleges that the charges brought against him by the state’s Attorney General Office “have been unduly influenced by his political opponents in his own office.”

The victim, who is not being named, says there was nothing consensual or playful about what happened to her. The 30-year-old woman acknowledges that she undressed to have sex with Gressett, but then things went in a direction she didn’t want them to go, that he pressed on by “sodomizing her, holding a gun to her head, handcuffing her, and jamming ice into her before making threats.” She says she cried and begged him to stop.

Whatever happens with Gressett’s case–whether a crime will be proved, whether Gressett will get his way and have a special prosecutor assigned–are among some of the unsettling aspects of the case.

What’s also unpleasant is reading how the alleged victim described the workplace environment.

In this legal office, “talk of sex toys and role-playing was apparently the norm.” Okay, gallows humor is a feature of police departments, coroner’s offices, news rooms.

But: “The sex crimes unit of the district attorney’s office, she recalled, was a highly sexualized place where she, Gressett and others bantered about rough sex and directed gallows humor toward the crime victims they represented.

Toward the victims they represented.

I’m mulling that last bit of information over.
Okay, how comfortable do you think you’d be coming forward to a Contra Costa sex crimes prosecutor to describe something traumatic and of an intimate nature that happened to you?How comfortable would you be entrusting your child to someone who might talk disparagingly about her behind her back?

Dear Mr. Kochly, I think it’s time for us Contra Costa County residents–and taxpayers–to hear from you about how you intend to rein in your employees, maybe how you’ve instituted at least some sensitivity training.Regardless of Mr. Gressett’s alleged conduct, it would be nice to hear from you that you do no tolerate this kind of banter and humor at the expense of victims in your office.

12 thoughts on “Sex toys talk, gallows humor about victims: Welcome to Contra Costa’s sex crimes unit

  1. Sensitivity training? Give me a break, how about hiring people with character and morals? Anyone can sit through sensitivity training and never change anything. Do we really think bringing in some expert can solve everything? I guess we do, that's why we have so many, experts that is.


  2. Okay, so the sensitivity training suggestion was rather silly. Sorry, I was writing this one off the cuff this morning… As JoJo Potato pointed out, we'd be better served by hiring people who actually have some character.


  3. I read that article this morning in SFgate and was shocked at the described behavior which is evidently office wide. Fire them all, start with a clean slate. People talking or emailing about that subject in the workplace is unacceptable at best and in the environment and type of crimes they are dealing with, frankly disgusting.


  4. Thanks for posting this. I was following the story up to a few months ago and this new stuff makes Gressett like a dirt bag. I cant believe that the people running the sex crimes unit were making jokes about their clients. We need to get some better people in that office.


  5. I agree.
    Why is it that the people here, writing in response on this site, assume that the report in the paper is accurate? Why do you assume that what the woman allegedly told the police, 4 months after whe was attacked, is true?
    Why are you not looking at the source, and questioning the reliability of a woman who flet that it was better to leave this man in his position, rather than report this heinous crime to the police? Because, apparently she worked there, and she knew that this was exactly what was happening. She did not feel bad enough about it to stop it from happening…..


  6. THe Contra Costa Times is reporting today that Gressett was fired:

    Meanwhile, I e-mailed Mr. Kochly and asked him if he had any response to the assertions made by this alleged victim about how talk about sex toys, role-playing and gallows humor was a regular feature of the sex crimes unit.

    I asked him if he had any comment to these assertions, and if he has taken any action regarding them.

    Maybe he instituted some sensitivity training (:


  7. There is nothing sensitive about firing someone over their indiscretions. It is the right approach. If you can't keep it in your pants, then you need a job somewhere else where you are not a liability to the taxpayers (your employers).

    It is a simple case of dipping the pen in company ink. Just because it is a state job does not make it permissible.


  8. Without having worked in such an environment, I wonder if there is some more or less natural tendency to engage in sexual talk as a type of “gallows” humor about the nature of one's work with a sex crimes unit — similar to the kind of “gallows humor” that one reads exists in, say, police, coroner's, medical or battle condition environments.

    Of course, by that, I in no way condone any kind of non-consensual actions, whether sexual harassment of co-workers, thoughtless treatment of victims seeking help from the authories, or (of course) outright physical attacks on co-workers.

    Be interesting to see where this leads. Is this the same individual who was implicated recently in another sexual assault? or was that yet another CC prosecutor? And, meanwhile, haven't there been some financial and sexual scandals swirling around the county assessor? What the heck is going on in Contra Costa County government?


  9. Sensitivity training? Give me a break, how about hiring people with character and morals? Anyone can sit through sensitivity training and never change anything. Do we really think bringing in some expert can solve everything? I guess we do, that's why we have so many, experts that is.- Hands down to you! I think this is actually the solution to all this perversion.

    sex toys


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