Survivors of sexual harassment and assault now have a place in San Francisco to help them navigate through the process of filing a report, as well as filing a complaint against any city agency that brushes off such cases.
Mayor London Breed last Thursday signed legislation that will form the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention Office, to handle complaints made by public about city agencies that fail to respond to allegations of sexual assault sexual harassment.
The Human Rights Commission will appoint the director of the new office and will receive input from a three-member advisory committee on choosing director. The panel will consist of a sexual assault survivor, a community advocate and an academic who is an expert in sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Breed, who allocated funds to staff the office in the two-year budget, said many survivors have dismissed by a system that should be helping survivors get through the traumatizing experience:
“This is not OK in the era of the ‘Me Too’ movement and we cannot stand by and let survivors go through this experience alone.”
Breed added that The City needs to send a strong message to survivors:
“We hear you. We are here for you and we’re going to do everything we can to put the resources necessary to make sure that we don’t just pass legislation to make an office like this possible.”
Jane Doe, a survivor of sexual assault, said she was blamed and disregarded by the Police Department when she filed her report:
“SFPD was utterly indifferent in brushing me off without so much of an interview. They deemed rape complicated but not serious.”
Doe said the SHARP office will be a source of advocacy and a place for holding city agencies accountable when survivors file reports.
Doe had a message for survivors who had not spoken yet about their own sexual assault or sexual harassment experience:
“To those who cannot or will not speak up who are so far away from the seat at the table, we stand in solidarity with you and today we start the work of building a bridge to you.”
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, the sponsor of the legislation, held a hearing earlier this year where questions were raised on how city agencies were handling sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.
Survivors spoke at the hearing to talk about how city agencies treated them when attempting to file a report with the Police Department or the treatment they received at the hospital.
Ronen, who worked with six survivors of rape, said the statistics are alarming on how many women and me are sexually assaulted a year:
“This is not something that we can throw up our hands up and say ‘oh that’s a shame.’ This is an epidemic that must be taken with all seriousness and we must have systemic change at every level.”
Ronen said the SHARP Office will help survivors navigate through1 city bureaucracy when filing a report:
“From day one, they will have an advocate to help them navigate through these difficult systems and be with them side by side as they are going through the very painful process of telling their stories and getting justice.”