Santa Clara County reshaping response to sexual assault and abuse crimes

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County and City of San Jose leaders, law enforcement, advocates and agencies were all ears at a special hearing on Monday night.

They joined panelists to discuss effective interventions, solutions, research and evaluation with regard to several community services.

Part of the discussion included the County's multidisciplinary Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and talk about the intersectionality of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.

The conversation combined ideas of increasing awareness and reporting of sexual assaults and domestic violence, and sexual assault prevention.

In the audience were people who want to make sure those in charge aren't missing opportunities to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and abuse crimes.

"We see that there are similar control and power tactics that are used, by batterers, by traffickers, and sometimes by rapists," Perla Flores said.

Similarities that have forced county and city leaders to think more broadly about the different types of victimization.

Flores is with Community Solutions and the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. She said her organization has served domestic violence survivors since 1978, sex assault survivors since 1985, and human trafficking survivors since 2003.

"For them to know that we care about everything that happened to them as an individual, all the victimization types that they endured, that piece is really going to be significant," Flores said.

She explained many survivors often deal with a number of sex assault and abuse crimes. She said the way services are currently set up, survivors don't get all the help they might need.

"If somebody comes in for domestic violence services, we're not really focusing on others," she continued. "Is there potential with sexual assault or human trafficking?"

She said present funding sources and screening processes don't allow for an adequate response. However, that could soon change.

"Thinking more broadly about the different type of victimization that someone has endured is really important," she said about Monday's special hearing. "Because it means that we're not going to find out two months later, or three months later and have to rehash that for the survivor."

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez confirmed funding sources for non-profits present a major challenge.

"We give them money for domestic violence, we give them money for sexual assault, we give them money for child abuse," Supervisor Chavez explained. "What we really want to do is fund them to provide support and resources, irrespective of what the victim has experienced."

"The point of tonight is to make sure that every officer that arrives to a scene has the training and support that they need, to really provide support to that victim, to connect that victim to a victim advocate, that those victim advocates have enough resources to be responsive," she said about Monday's special hearing.

"Why are we doing all of this," Chavez asked herself. "Because we know that there's so much suffering happening within our community. And here, in Santa Clara County, we can do something about that."

"Let's not divide the person's needs up by the kind of violence," she continued. "But let's be the whole person, approaching that person with the care and consideration they deserve."

The move comes after the County Board of Supervisors announced in June, it would set aside $5-million toward domestic violence programs.

Still, some victims in Monday's audience told ABC7 News, they remain skeptical.

"I don't think much is going to be done right away," Anna Tasha Birch shared.

Birch fears real change is only considered when someone regarded as "important," is impacted.

She added, "Something major, unfortunately, has to happen, and then it's, 'Oh gee, we should've done that!'"

Supervisor Chavez admitted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's actions have inspired victims to be brave and speak up. You'll remember Blasey Ford accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

"What we've seen this last year is an increase in the numbers," Chavez explained. "Part of the reason I think we see that increase is because of the braveness of Dr. Blasey Ford- going in front of Congress and telling her story, and I think that has helped a lot of other people be brave."

Monday's special hearing was an opportunity for the County to support its policies and budget to reflect preventative solutions and adequate services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence who are overwhelmingly women and girls.

"We want to create more environments for people to be brave," Chavez said.

The month of April is observed as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

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