Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin announced on June 18th a six-point plan to ensure that the District Attorney’s office takes a victim/survivor-first approach to sexual assault cases. He announced the policy with Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has taken a leading role in bringing forward the city’s failure to address survivors of sex crimes appropriately and led the creation of the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention.
“We need to guarantee that every woman and man who is sexually assaulted in this city is treated compassionately, professionally and effectively,” said Chesa Boudin. “As District Attorney, I will ensure that prosecutors have the best training, that each case is thoroughly investigated and reviewed, and that every survivor is treated with respect and compassion.”
“Sexual assault is a terrible epidemic and we need to do better as a city in responding to survivors,” said Ronen. “Sex crimes are far more likely to be committed against trans/gender-non-conforming/non-binary, women, poor, homeless, people of color. I strongly support Chesa’s approach and believe it will make a huge impact in how these cases are handled.”
Chesa Boudin’s 6-Point Plan Will Establish A Survivor-Centered Approach in The Prosecution of Sex Crimes
1. Test Every Rape Kit, New or Old, Using Up-To-Date Toxicology Tests
Chesa Boudin commits to have every single rape kit tested in a timely fashion and to make the results of those tests available to victims/survivors and defendants.
While the SFPD has publicly reported that it cleared its backlog of untested rape kits in 2014 and that it has not accumulated a new backlog, the actual numbers are difficult to verify. Undergoing a rape kit is an extremely physically and emotionally invasive process which often leaves a person feeling re-victimized. To submit someone to this process only to leave the evidence untested not only is irresponsible vis-a-vis the victim/survivor, but is also compromises due process. In addition to being used in one specific case, DNA evidence can also be added to the National Registry and could be used to solve other cases.
Additionally, rape kits should include toxicology panels that test for chemicals associated with drug-facilitated sexual assault. This includes taking urine, blood, and when necessary hair samples from victim/survivors in order to test for known and emerging drugs used to incapacitate people before sexually assaulting them. These drugs include but are not limited to alcohol, MDMA, GHB, Ketamine, Benzodiazipines, Barbiturates, Sedatives, Muscle Relaxants, Opioids, and so-called “roofie” “designer” or “illicit” drugs.
Finally, Boudin will introduce the use of Drug Recognition Evaluators (DREs). These are law enforcement personnel who have been trained to identify individuals who are under the influence of a variety of drugs, including alcohol. While DREs have traditionally been used in California by highway patrol for driving under the influence investigations, this could be a valuable tool to make immediate and important evaluations and assessments of a victim’s/survivor’s physical and mental state which can be used as corroborating evidence of drug facilitated assault.
2. Establish a Sex Crimes Review Team
Chesa Boudin will establish a SCRT unit in the DAs office (like Summit County did), which will work closely with law enforcement at the earliest stages of investigation of sexual assault. This team of prosecutors/investigators will be specially trained to identify and interview victims/survivors, including SANE-SART certification, meaning they will have enough preparation and experience to handle sexual assault allegations with compassion and rigor. The improved lines of communication between the police and the DA will allow SART to review and recommend each report of sexual assault for prosecution.
By establishing and publicizing a specially trained unit that will be responsible for compassionately receiving and reviewing reports of sexual assault, Boudin will address the systemic issue of non-reporting due to fear of disbelief and hositility that many victims/survivors face.
3. Proactively Prosecute Sex Crimes Committed Against Underserved Communities
Police and prosecutors should prioritize violent and sexual crimes for investigation and prosecution. Currently we do the opposite: ⅔ of the jury trials every year in San Francisco criminal courts are misdemeanors, many of them victimless. Meanwhile, insufficient resources are devoted to the aggressive investigation and prosecution of sex crimes.
We know that these numbers disproportionately affect minority populations, particularly members of trans/GNC/NB communities. Being a progressive prosecutor means proactively seeking equity in the criminal justice system on behalf of victims/survivors across race, class, and gender lines. That means that a queer, gender non-conforming, poor, non-English speaking, immigrant, person of color has just as much opportunity for and access to justice as any other victim/survivor of a sex crime.
Law enforcement –police and prosecutors– must start by correcting systemic bias concerning discrediting the allegations of survivors. Instead, law enforcement should treat every report of sexual assault as credible, and then investigate, just as is done for any other reported crime. There must not be a bottleneck at the reporting or investigation stage.
This training should include but will not be limited to mandatory SANE-SART training for any law enforcement officers and prosecutors who work on sexual assault cases; basic anatomy trainings; gender-sensitivity trainings which include trainings that deal specifically with sexual assault in the trans/NB/GNC communities; and trauma-informed care trainings. Officers and prosecutors should also undergo ongoing trainings regarding drug recognition evaluations and cognitive interviews. The science and psychology in these areas are constantly developing, and Boudin is committed to making sure police officers and DAs have relevant and up-to-date training.
Sexual assault charges go to trial for many reasons including reliance on traumatized witnesses and a dysfunctional market for plea bargaining. For this reason, the best trial lawyers must be assigned to sexual assault cases within the District Attorney’s office. This means that attorneys assigned to the sex crimes unit must have a proven track record of successful trial work that stands up on appeal and are specially trained to work with survivors and their victim advocate. This will ensure that cases are prepared to withstand the legal and emotional pressures of trial.
5. Give Victims/Survivors a Voice in Every Case
Chesa Boudin commits to addressing historical bias against victims/survivors by implementing victim/survivor-centered policies and programs to increase the number of sex crimes that are reported and addressed. He will do this in cooperation with SFSART, a collaboration which already exists to pool resources for victim/survivors.
Boudin will ensure that his SCRT will immediately place each victim/survivor with a trained victim advocate who speaks their primary language or uses an interpreter, if necessary. This person will be able to speak on behalf of the victim/survivor and act as their guide through the process of investigation and court proceedings. Additionally, a victim advocate can assist a victim/survivor with timely access to police reports, test results, and therapy where requested. This way, a trained professional can handle the direct services required while the DAs can focus on how best to prosecute the assaut. Victim/Survivors will have a right to timely, detailed information about the investigation into their case.
Finally, Boudin promises to make a restorative justice process widely available, so that victims/survivors may participate where appropriate.
6. Establish a Sexual Violence Task Force
Chesa Boudin will establish a SVTF (like Berkshire County did), similar to or in collaboration with SFSART. SVTF will be a collaborative effort led by the DAs office which engages local stakeholders and gives victims/survivors access to resources already available in the community.
These local stakeholders will include SHARP, SFWAR, SFUSD, and local rape treatment centers. Sexual violence is a systemic, community wide problem that can not be addressed in a vacuum. Instead, it requires constant education, outreach, and safe space to learn and report. By collaborating with community members, the DAs office can participate in community wide learning outside of the context of the courtroom.
The long term goal is not only to hold people who commit sexual assault accountable and give victims/survivors the voice and justice they deserve, but also to radically decrease the amount of sexual violence that occurs.