Two years ago, a woman in San Francisco who was raped called a resource hotline for help. She had been drugged and left with bruises, bleeding and a concussion. She turned to the criminal justice system for help, but unfortunately, her efforts only exacerbated the trauma of her experience.
Officials at the District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute her case, claiming it would be too difficult to win at trial. The representatives at the hotline put her on a waitlist and told her they’d get back to her with whatever resources were available, but a few months later she received a letter from them telling her that they were closing her case.
Tragically, her story is not unique. Every day in San Francisco, we are failing survivors. In April 2018, the local press wrote about several rape cases, including the one above, that were brought to the DA’s office. Sexual assault reports were up 21% at SF General Hospital and commitments were made to do better. However, recent reports indicate that of the 12% of adult sexual assault investigations referred to the District Attorney, two percent went to trial, and only one percent led to guilty verdicts. The numbers don’t lie — we aren’t doing what we need to do to prosecute rapists, protect survivors and get them the resources needed to heal. This will change when I’m District Attorney.
Survivors are the architects of real safety. They must be given space to hold their rapists and harrassers accountable, to heal, to speak, be heard and to drive the reforms that will reduce sexual violence in our communities. In 2013, When I was President the San Francisco Police Commission, I pushed for policy changes clearing a backlog in rape kit tests, held the police department accountable for any future delays in rape kit testing, and improved transparency by requiring law enforcement to provide more regular updates on the progress of testing. These reforms became the gold standard that was later adopted by the California legislature and made into state law.
As District Attorney, I will prioritize cases involving sexual violence. In my first 100 days, I will convene a team to re-examine every eligible rape case that was discharged for lack of evidence. I will assign special investigators to identify if there is additional evidence and skilled prosecutors to build effective cases for prosecution in light of new discoveries. I will recruit and train the best prosecutors to handle these cases. We must train all law enforcement officials to effectively build cases through multi-disciplinary forensics teams that reduce the burden of justice on victims and collect as much evidence, forensic and circumstantial, as possible.
The epidemic of sexual violence won’t be solved just by increasing rates of conviction. We must build a system that prioritizes the needs of all survivors. A recent survey of crime survivors, published by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, showed that six in 10 victims prefer that prosecutors consider victims’ opinions on what would help them recover from the crime, even when victims do not want long prison sentences. Survivors of violence, including sexual assault, frequently report having numerous mental health and social service needs but they are typically
unaware of the services that may be available. Our community must wrap these survivors with meaningful, compassionate pathways informed by medical experts, such as the Trauma Recovery Center at UCSF does. Bringing the resources and services to the survivor puts their needs and ultimate healing at the center. I will support expanding the Trauma Recovery Center model as an ideal place to make first contact and prioritize the survivor’s recovery.
As District Attorney, I will focus our resources on working to hold those who commit sexual violence accountable. Working in partnership with our public health and law enforcement partners, we will stem the tide of sexual violence against women.
We have to build a world-class law office able to investigate and prosecute rapists, expand access to Trauma Recovery Centers, devote resources to support and expand reporting systems that protect the safety of the survivor. In order to do all of these things, we need to increase resources to continue to provide survivors with vital services such as shelters, crisis lines, legal services, community based services, and protective orders. These programs should be funded without hesitation. Survivors deserve nothing less.
Suzy Loftus is a candidate for San Francisco District Attorney. A former prosecutor, she served as president of the San Francisco Police Commission and currently works as an attorney for the Sheriff’s Department.