San Francisco’s handling of sexual assault cases is becoming an issue in the district attorney’s race as the November election nears.
On Tuesday, all four candidates in the running to succeed outgoing District Attorney George Gascon plan to address their visions for responding to sex crimes in the era of the #MeToo movement.
The ideas range from convening a team of prosecutors to review old cases that were never charged, to creating an online portal where a sexual assault survivor could track the status of a case.
The candidates are Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, Deputy Attorney General for California Leif Dautch, former Police Commission President Suzy Loftus and Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Tung.
If elected, Boudin said he would create a Sex Crimes Review Team to compassionately interview survivors and streamline sexual assault investigations with police.
“There seems to be a lack of political will to aggressively prosecute and investigate sex crimes,” said Boudin.
Dautch, meanwhile, would work with police to implement an online tracking system for providing survivors with up-to-date information on whether their rape kit has been tested or their case has been charged.
“This is really about empowering survivors of sexual assault with the information they need both for their own healing process and for them to be able to hold police officers and prosecutors accountable,” Dautch said.
Dautch said San Francisco has fallen behind when it comes to keeping survivors informed. Eighteen states beginning with Idaho have already implemented such a system, and the technology is available free of charge.
Loftus, who currently works as an attorney for the Sheriff’s Department, said she would have a team review every eligible rape case that the office did not charge to determine if new evidence could lead to charges being filed.
“There are a number of women who have been told that they were raped, that the law enforcement apparatus knows that the rape happened, but they can’t win the case,” Loftus said. “And that’s where it ends.”
As district attorney, Loftus said she would “take an unflinching look at all the decisions that were made in these cases and make sure that the charging decision was the right one.”
Tung, who previously worked as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco, said she would improve the services that the District Attorney’s Office offers to the victims of violent crimes, including sexual assault.
Tung wants to empower the Victim Services Division to leave the courthouse and “go out into the field.”
“What I want to do is streamline the system for victims,” Tung said. “To the extent that these victims are coming into the criminal justice system at a very difficult time, we want to make this as easy as possible for them.”
Some of the candidates called into question Gascon’s record of prosecuting sex crimes.
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately have complete figures available on the total number of sexual assaults reported in The City, but the number is believed to be in the hundreds annually.
Of the hundreds of reported sexual assaults a year, police presented 88 cases to the District Attorney’s Office for a charging decision in 2017, 104 cases in 2016 and 100 cases in 2015, according to the office.
The office says it prosecuted 35 of the cases in 2017, 49 cases in 2016 and 47 cases in 2015.
While it’s unclear how many of those prosecutions resulted in convictions, the office’s prosecution rate for sexual assault cases was higher than the national standard of 19 percent.
In response to allegations that police have mishandled sexual assault cases, SFPD spokesperson David Stevenson said the department has boosted staffing in the Special Victims Unit from 35 to 55 investigators since 2018.
The department has previously come under fire and faced legal action for leaving rape kits sitting on the shelf, but Stevenson said police currently have no “backlog” of untested rape kits.
“We take sexual assault allegations seriously and devote the time and resources necessary to thoroughly investigate these cases,” Stevenson said. “We are committed to improving and expanding our training. We look forward to further collaboration with civic and community leaders on serving the needs of survivors.”