SAN FRANCISCO (BCN/CBS SF) — San Francisco regulator Catherine Stefani on Tuesday announced a ballot initiative for the June 2022 election that aims to expand services available to victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
The initiative would establish the Office of Victims and Witnesses’ Rights, as well as the right to a civil defense attorney for victims of domestic violence.
According to Stefani, amid an increase in certain types of crime in the city, such as burglaries and murders, the vote initiative is urgently needed, as victims often have limited options.
“We are here because we know that San Franciscans who are victims of crime are not getting the help or the help they need and deserve. Every week I get letters from voters who are in the worst circumstances of their lives and don’t know where to go,” Stefani said.
“Unfortunately, the city’s response has not been as urgent as I think it should be. Assistance to victims is divided over several departments, each with their own mission and mandates. This leaves victims the task of navigating the complex city bureaucracy when they are least able to, and that must end now,” she said.
According to Stefani, the Victim and Witness Rights Agency, once established, 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 service gaps 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 assist victims in obtaining full legal representation through grants, assisting them with matters such as child support or child custody, protection orders, housing, work, and immigration issues, Stefani said.
Several supervisors support Stefani’s initiative, including supervisors Ahsha Safai, Matt Haney, Myrna Melgar and Rafael Mandelman.
“Providing legal services to survivors of domestic violence is a critical tool that was missing here in San Francisco,” Safai said. “This is an important initiative and I think it will do great service to the 90 percent of victims who are not eligible for victim support today. Having one office to bolster that and be the rendezvous point and lead people through the bureaucracy will be a huge help.”
“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 language barriers, they may be concerned about immigration status and our city needs to be there to support them 100 percent.”