Ronen Takes on ‘Appalling Systemic Failures’ in Handling of Rape Cases

Supervisor Hillary Ronen says a number of rape victims have approached her office to tell tales of institutional flaws and blatant discrimination.

The stories sound like something out of a bad episode of Law & Order: SVU, not San Francisco’s justice system. A rape survivor waited more than three hours for a blood test to be administered, despite telling authorities she believed her assailant drugged her. A police investigator told a rape victim that she changed her mind and could not receive the results of her rape kit.

These are examples of cases that have been brought to Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office in the past few months, spurring her to act.

“While we are doing better than most places in California when it comes to rape kits, I am hearing appalling systemic failures from sexual assault survivors coming to my office for help,” Ronen said in a statement Tuesday. “Survivors have shared that they are being treated like it’s their fault they were raped. … This is outrageous.”

In a show of support for victims, Ronen has called for a hearing on how rape cases are handled — from the initial report all the way to a conviction.

“I want to understand how evidence is collected and processed, how health services are provided to survivors, how cases are investigated by the Police Department, and how the District Attorney’s Office handles the prosecution of these cases,” she says. “A central question throughout is ‘How is each department ensuring that women are taken seriously and treated with respect through this process?”

The decision to request a hearing comes after the number of calls to Ronen’s office reached a breaking point.

“We’ve been getting calls from a few survivors who have been trying to prosecute their cases,” Carolina Morales, an aide to Ronen, tells SF Weekly. “Some issues seem like cracks in the system, and others seem like discrimination.”

San Francisco sees around 350 rape cases reported each year. But that number hasn’t always been that high: In 2013, there were only 161. The following year, that number doubled, and the figure has held steady through 2017.

Despite the fairly high number of incidents, authorities have released little else about the cases publicly, in order to preserve the privacy of victims. One of the only high-profile San Francisco sexual-assault cases in the past five years was in 2012, when serial rapist Frederick Dozier was arrested following three assaults in the Mission District and Noe Valley. The media caught wind of the incidents only after friends and victims spread the word on Facebook, alerting other women in the neighborhood about the random attacks. Dozier was later sentenced to 323 years in prison.

Dozier’s case was unique in that he was caught, found guilty, and sentenced. Many victims don’t have that neat of an ending, as their untested rape kits gather dust on government shelves. It’s unclear how many untested sexual assault kits are languishing in San Francisco — though a new bill introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu may fix that. AB 3118, drafted last month, would require law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, and crime laboratories to conduct a full audit of the sexual assault evidence kits in their possession and report certain data to the Department of Justice by no later than July 1, 2019.

If Ronen’s hearing is held, Morales tells SF Weekly, it will most likely include representatives from the Medical Examiner’s Office, SFPD, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Public Health, and local community experts. It’s tentatively scheduled, pending approval, for the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on April 12.

Nuala Sawyer is SF Weekly’s news editor. |  @TheBestNuala

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