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Accepting Responsibility for Crime Victim Trauma

November 1, 2023
Tracy McCray - SFPOA President

“The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries.” We hear this phrase on the evening news describing the medical status of a crime victim, and we collectively breathe a sigh of relief. We tell ourselves that because the person did not die, everything will be all right.

It’s a lie. It’s important that we all know that. We’ve convinced ourselves that non-life-threatening injuries for a crime victim mean a clean bill of health instead of what they are for most victims: life-altering injuries.

What does that mean?

According to a Department of Justice Special Report, 70% of victims of “serious violent crime—rape or sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated assault—reported experiencing socio-emotional problems as a result of their victimization.” Seven out of ten victims have “moderate to severe distress” and significant problems at school, work, or home. They also report developing an inability to trust or not feeling as close to others after their victimization.

That data should inform how we discuss crime in our community. It should be a cornerstone for every anti-crime, community safety strategy we create. It’s not. It should be a focal point for our criminal court system. It’s not. The issue of crime has dominated San Francisco’s civic and political dialogue for years, but it’s superficial. Is crime up, or is crime down? It’s meaningless. It’s meaningless because we are not discussing the current crime’s impact on the community and on victims.

All crime is not created equal. San Francisco had 56 murders in 2022 but had 35,400 thefts. Thefts accounted for 66% of our total crimes committed, while murders accounted for 0.11%. A big drop in thefts can make “crime go down,” but is that really informing us of the overall safety and health of our city? Of course not.

Based on current trends, San Francisco averages seven robbery victims a day. Most will suffer “non-life-threatening injuries.” Based on DOJ stats, five of those seven people will suffer severe to moderate emotional and or psychological distress. In one week’s time, 35 victims will need some form of trauma-based therapy services. In a year, that number will be 1,890.

This year, the SFPOA brought more attention to robbery crimes because of the impacts described above and because the severity of violence inflicted upon victims is increasing. Criminals are bolder and crueler. They prey upon the weak; their punishment is severely delayed if it happens at all. More and more, these crimes are carried out by juveniles who effectively have a free pass in our city for facing serious criminal consequences. It’s out of control. However, we need the public discussion to go beyond the crime rate—we need to focus on what we do for the victims left in the aftermath.

By the end of the year, we’ll have approximately 2,700 robbery victims, and 1,890 of them impacted by trauma. Yet, there’s not a single “plan” to discuss how to help treat or assist those victims. No special task forces or blue-ribbon commissions to help those people put their lives back together. They deserve better.

We need to start by putting victims at the forefront of how public safety, court, and city services are delivered. We need more resources invested in expanding the ability of personnel at local police stations and public and non-profit victim advocates to work together to connect to victims, identify needed services, and help with follow-through and follow-up to see if we were successful.

We need a broad set of stakeholders to not just sit at the table but bring something to the table: SFPD, the courts, the District Attorney, victim advocates, medical and mental health providers, probation, and the Public Defender. Yes, the Public Defender’s clients account for a considerable number of the perpetrators that cause this trauma; it’s time for their office to step up. Restorative justice is a complete sham if they do not come forward in an honest, meaningful way.

This is not just a San Francisco problem. The DOJ Report stated that 12% of victims who experienced socio-emotional issues received victim services help. That’s horrendous, and it screams for action.

It’s time we stopped turning the channel after we heard that the latest robbery left the victim with non-life-threatening injuries. It’s time we started treating them for the life-altering injuries we know they sustained. That is how we build a stronger, safer city.

1. Socio-emotional Impact of Violent Crime, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice; Lynn Langton, Ph.D., and Jennifer Truman, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians, September 2014.
2. SFPD Crime Dashboard, 1/1/2023 to 8/20/2023