Justice system must work for all survivors

Justice system must work for all survivors

We agree with and support the call to challenge the injustice and systemic racism in our criminal justice system and to make long overdue investments in the Black community. We believe Black lives matter, and we stand with Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

As elected officials make decisions about police funding, they must offer a clear vision of how changes will affect sexual assault victims who are participating in the criminal justice system.

Let us be clear: we know the criminal justice system is not currently meeting the needs of victims of sexual assault. On any given day, KCSARC legal advocates are working with more than 1,000 people who have survived rape and abuse and seek to find some justice in the system. Certainly, for some, there is a satisfactory conclusion. But for many others, that is not the case. 

Our experience was confirmed recently by a King County audit, which analyzed 2,571 sexual assaults reported to the Sheriff's Office and cases handled by the Prosecuting Attorney over a 3-year period. Auditors found that only 10% were charged by prosecutors, and 6% resulted in a conviction. 

We need change. Survivors of sexual assault deserve a criminal justice system that is trauma-focused and procedurally just. It should center on the survivor’s experiences.

Victims also deserve viable alternatives when the system cannot or will not respond. They need the individual who raped them or their child to be held accountable and stopped from perpetrating again. Creating these alternatives will take time and resources.

Elected officials making decisions about law enforcement need to clearly define for survivors of sexual assault which law enforcement functions they intend to keep. Will investigations happen at current staffing levels? What about investigations of internet crimes, especially now as children spend even more time online to learn and socialize? How will Seattle’s decisions impact the other 38 law enforcement organizations in our region? How will our region’s social services systems, which work in partnership with the criminal justice system, continue to assist individuals on the margins during this time of transition?

Thoughtful, careful and informed decision-making is crucial. Decisions must be guided by data, community strengths and needs, and science. We need dialogue — and we must be able to hear divergent opinions. Elected officials and leaders who are asking questions should not face threats and bullying.

And finally, law enforcement and the criminal justice system cannot prevent sexual assault. That job belongs to all of us, working together. It begins with ensuring our young people learn foundational lessons surrounding personal boundaries, consent, and healthy relationships in school, in the community and at home. It includes addressing offending behavior promptly and providing treatment that works. This type of programming is often overlooked and under-resourced and should be brought to the fore now.

Now is the time to come together to reimagine a system that works better for all survivors and stops perpetration of sexual assault.