San Francisco District Attorney candidate Chesa Boudin took to the steps of City Hall Tuesday and pledged to improve how city prosecutors respond to sexual assault cases — cases survivors and advocates have long accused the DA’s office of being too gun-shy to prosecute consistently.
“We know that sex crimes are one of the most common but least prosecuted serious crimes — that must end,” said Boudin, currently a deputy public defender. He was surrounded by his supporters as well as victim advocates and politicians.
Rape survivors and advocates have become increasingly vocal about how police and prosecutors handle their cases — commonly alleging that police treat them like criminals, blame them for their rape incidents, and fail to collect evidence. Advocates further argue that prosecutors are too reluctant to bring cases to trial, resulting in low prosecution rates.
Of the 694 reported sexual assaults reported to police in 2016, the DA’s office reviewed roughly 104 cases and prosecuted 49 of them, according to SFPD and DA data. Of the 864 in 2017, prosecutors reviewed 88 cases and prosecuted 35.
The DA prosecuted 38.9 percent of the cases it reviewed in 2017, according to the office, which it claims is twice the national average.
Boudin said he’d be willing to take more rape cases to trial, even at the risk of losing those cases more frequently. “Sometimes that’s what justice requires,” he said. “Sometimes that’s what the evidence shows.”
He pledged a number of improvements to the current system. He spoke of establishing a “specially trained” team responsible for working with police and survivors to build cases; implementing trauma-informed and gender-based training; assigning his best prosecutors to the cases; establishing a task force composed of victim advocates; and more aggressively charging sex crimes against underserved communities.
In addition, Boudin pledged to test every rape kit and share the results with testees. He added that his office would use investigators called “Drug Recognition Evaluators” to immediately test whether survivors may have been drugged, which could provide evidence of a drug-facilitated assault.
But Boudin is not the only candidate promising change.
Suzy Loftus, a former Police Commission president who currently works with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said she’s committed to reviewing previously declined sexual assault cases within her first 100 days in office, so long as the cases fall within the statute of limitations. She said she would bring her experience as both a former San Francisco and California prosecutor to “take a hard look at the evidence and pursue every avenue to get them justice.”
“Survivors deserve nothing less,” she said.
Nancy Tung, formerly a prosecutor for the San Francisco DA’s office and now for Alameda County, said she wanted to “streamline” the process for survivors, “so that sexual assault survivors do not fend for themselves.”
In response to the DA’s current charge rate, Tung said, “I think it can be improved.” She spoke of her experience prosecuting domestic violence cases and a need for coordination between the police department and prosecutors. “It’s a matter of having the right resources and experienced prosecutors to do the job,” she said.
DA candidate Leif Dautch, currently a prosecutor with the California Department of Justice, pledged yesterday to establish an anonymous rape kit tracking system. Survivors are often left in the dark about these results, he asserted.
“With members of the Idaho Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (ISAKI) offering the tracking software to San Francisco free of charge, we have both the means and the responsibility to survivors to implement this tracking system in our city,” Dautch said in a statement.
The issue boiled over last April when survivors testified to the Board of Supervisors that the city — especially the SFPD and the DA’s office — were mishandling their cases. In response, Supervisor Hillary Ronen established the Sexual Harassment Assault and Response and Prevention (SHARP) office, which would take complaints from survivors regarding how city departments handle their cases. The office is slated to be open by the end of the year.
In the interim, survivors and advocates have argued that nothing has changed in law enforcement response a year later, despite their pledges to make things better.