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Legislation seeks to hold city agencies accountable for response to sexual violence

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen and survivors of sexual assault on Tuesday announced legislation to address The City’s response to sexual violence. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Legislation announced Tuesday would create a city department to hold city agencies and employees accountable for not handling cases of sexual violence appropriately.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen drafted the legislation with support from Supervisors Jane Kim and Sandra Lee Fewer after multiple women came forward at a committee meeting in April alleging that San Francisco law enforcement and other agencies mistreated victims of sexual assault and harassment and failed to properly investigate cases of sexual violence.

“We see departments unable to keep San Franciscans safe from sexual violence,” Ronen said. “These are our city employees who are blaming victims for these assaults and denying survivors their right to an objective investigation.”

Ronen’s legislation would create the office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, SHARP, which would be housed in the Human Rights Commission’s office.

The department will consist of a team tasked with decreasing complaints against city agencies for mishandling complaints of sexual assault and harassment and publicly disclose which agencies fail to serve victims properly.

The office will also develop policies to improve the response to victims citywide.

“We never get to hear when something goes to human resources or the Department of Police Accountability,” said Carolina Morales, Supervisor Ronen’s legislative aide. “But what this office is going to be able to do is produce written documents that will be made public.”

Six women who were victims of rape told their stories on the steps of City Hall Tuesday, describing how city agencies, particularly the police and district attorney’s office, failed to appropriately investigate.

“The SFPD investigator told me that what it came down to was my state of mind, that what happened to me was my responsibility,” said Tiffany, a survivor who asked to withhold her last name for safety reasons. “I was dropped by the DA’s office. Twice.”

A heightened level of transparency will help exert more pressure on city agencies to change the culture of how they report and investigate sexual violence cases, Morales said.

“We are committed to improving and expanding our training to ensure all sexual assault survivors are treated with empathy, dignity and respect,” said Officer Giselle Linnane, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department. “We look forward to further collaboration with civic and community leaders on serving the needs of survivors.”

Annual funding for the SHARP office will range between $300,000 and $400,000. The legislation for the new department will go to committee for a vote in June.

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