As District Attorney, Chesa Boudin Will Transform The Management of Sex Crimes
Sex crimes are one of the most common yet least prosecuted category of serious crimes. Historical barriers include: (i) lack of political will to aggressively prosecute sex crimes; (ii) law enforcement - police and prosecutors - not having the necessary training and experience to compassionately and rigorously handle allegations of sexual assault; (iii) rape kits and other critical evidence being left untested/collected; and (iv) victims/survivors understandably feeling unsafe or unable to report crimes and cooperate with prosecutions because of systemic failures like (i)(ii) and (iii).
Sex crimes impact everyone: one in three straight cis women and one in six straight cis men will be victim/survivors of sexual assault in their lifetime. The risk of victim/survivorization is even greater within the LGBTQ community; nearly half of bisexual cis women have been raped and 75% of bisexual cis women have experienced some other form of sexual violence. For the trans/gender-nonconforming/non-binary community, the number is close to one in two. Even these statistics grossly under-represent the problem because most sexual assaults are never reported. And for the rapes that are reported, less than 5 percent lead to an arrest, 1 percent are referred to the District Attorney, and less than half of one percent result in a felony conviction. Additionally, physically and emotionally invasive rape kits often go untested. San Francisco is only marginally better than these national averages.
While sex crimes impact everyone, they are not evenly distributed amongst society: victims/survivors are far more likely to be: trans/gender-non-conforming/non-binary, women, poor, homeless, people of color. Access to justice for these communities is impeded by implicit bias and failures of cultural humility, which leads to law enforcement being less inclined to credit allegations of sexual assault brought forward by members of these communities.
It is no surprise, then, that most victim/survivors never receive the healing they deserve, and that most offenders are never held accountable.
In recent years, victims/survivors have been pushing back and filing lawsuits against disinterested and discriminatory law enforcement agencies. San Francisco is currently defending its law enforcement agencies against a lawsuit filed by a victim/survivor of sexual assault whose rape kit was never even tested.
Being a progressive prosecutor is about more than just ending mass incarceration and the racial injustice plaguing our criminal justice system. It requires treating sex crimes with the seriousness they demand, and treating victims/survivors with the compassion they deserve. Boudin is committed to a thorough and timely investigation of every reported sexual assault and to prosecuting every case where the evidence establishes probable cause.
Boudin’s 6-Point Plan Will Establish A Victim/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.
4. Implement Mandatory Sexual Assault Trainings & Elevate The Sex Crimes Unit
Law enforcement --police and prosecutors-- must start by correcting systemic bias concerning discrediting the allegations of victims/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 special training to work with victims/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.