San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani on Tuesday announced a ballot initiative for the June 2022 election that aims to expand services available for victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
The initiative would create the Office of Victim and Witness Rights, as well as establish the right to civil counsel for victims of domestic violence.
According to Stefani, amid an uptick in certain types of crimes in the city like burglary and homicides, the ballot initiative is urgently needed as, oftentimes, victims are left with limited options.
"We are here because we know that San Franciscans who are victims of crime do not get the help or the assistance they need and deserve. Every week, I get letters from constituents who are facing the worst circumstances in their lives and they don't know where to turn," Stefani said.
"Sadly, the city's response has not been as urgent that I feel it needs to be. Services for victims are divided among several departments, each with their own mission and mandates. This leaves victims with the task of navigating complex city bureaucracy right at the moment when they're least able to so, and that needs to end now," she said.
According to Stefani, once established, the Office of Victim and Witness Rights would be a "one-stop shop outside of law enforcement, where victims can get the help they need."
In addition to providing comprehensive services, the office will also help identify gaps in service and advocate for new ways to support victims.
The office will also be tasked with administering the right to civil counsel for victims of domestic violence, which will help victims obtain full-scope legal representation through grant funding, assisting them with things like child support or custody, protective orders, housing, employment, and immigration issues, Stefani said.
Several supervisors are backing Stefani's initiative, including supervisors Ahsha Safai, Matt Haney, Myrna Melgar, and Rafael Mandelman.
"To provide legal services to survivors of domestic violence is a critical tool that has been missing here in San Francisco," Safai said. "This is an important initiative and I think it will do tremendous services for the 90 percent of victims that don't qualify for victims services today. Having one office to solidify that and be the catch-all and guide people through the bureaucracy will be a tremendous support."
"No victim should be alone in this," Haney said. "Many of the people who are victims of crimes don't want to deal with the justice system. They may have barriers related to language, they may have concerns about immigration status, and our city has to be there to support them 100 percent."