Supporting victims of crime, and reducing victimization of crime, must be the priorities of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Efforts must be made to empower and provide sufficient resources for Deputy District Attorneys so they are able to continue to and always improve efforts to listen to and provide support to victims and survivors. As District Attorney, I would support policies to put victims and survivors first, to listen to them, to notify them, and to prioritize their needs, instead of a blind pursuit of a conviction at all cost.
These policies include:
Expanded Access to Restorative Justice Options
I would increase the access to restorative justice options, only if a victim or survivor desires it. Restorative justice seeks to look beyond traditional justice system approaches to harm or violence, and seeks methods to provide healing to victims, accountability for offenders, and justice for both. Restorative justice seeks healing, growth, and to repair the harm caused by violence, and to address the causes of violence in our communities. However, every victim and victim family member must be entitled to control his or her own process of healing. Victims may never be forced into a restorative justice outcome, because it can risk re-traumatization and further harm. When a survivor expresses the desire for healing outcomes, and outcomes that require an offender to take responsibility and amend harms, rather than only incarceration, their voices must be heard.
As District Attorney I would:
- Create a division of pretrial diversion and restorative justice within the office to expand the use of diversionary and restorative justice options;
- Support legislation that would create Restorative Justice Pilot Programs as an alternative to incarceration and traditional victim-service programs, to provide healing and services for survivors, prevent recidivism, keep families together, prevent long term unemployment resulting from conviction, and lower prison costs; and
- Explore methods of including visits to and participation in healing circles and other restorative programs as part of Deputy District Attorney trainings.
Improved Services and Support for Victims
I would support measures and policies that would provide additional access to services and victim support, both through the District Attorney’s Office and outside of it. Specifically, in cases of domestic abuse, it can be difficult for a survivor to separate from an abuser, because it may require additional separate housing, employment, or financial assistance. Ms. Rossi would support policies and legislation that would empower survivors of domestic violence, by providing assistance to housing access, financial assistance, counseling, job training, or other resources to empower victims to separate from an abusive relationship successfully.
Providing Compassionate and Timely Notice to Victims
Victims and survivors must be provided compassionate, timely, culturally, gender-diverse and linguistically sensitive notice about what is happening in a case. In order for victims to be empowered, it starts with knowing what is happening in court and whether the person who harmed them is incarcerated, moved, or released from incarceration. L.A. County utilizes the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) system to monitor inmate movement, transfers, and releases, and to notify victims who choose to be notified of these occurrences by phone call, text, TTY or email. I have spoken with victims and often heard complaints that the system has not effectively provided notice, even after multiple requests. I would support an audit, or random survey to victims, of current victim notification practices to see whether the system is working, and whether updates are necessary. Proper and timely notification to victims who choose it is essential to ensure they are empowered, informed, and heard.
Supporting Deputy District Attorneys so they are Empowered to Stand with Victims
Deputy District Attorneys often are exposed to secondary or vicarious trauma when they stand with victims and see traumatic cases in court regularly. Without support, this can lead to burn out and fatigue. When prosecutors are not empowered and supported, it can be difficult for them to consistently empower and support survivors. As District Attorney, I would seek to provide prosecutors with access to counseling or secondary trauma services. It is imperative that prosecutors are adequately supported.
Supporting Survivors of Sexual Assault
One of the most difficult issues survivors face is the common belief that their word alone is insufficient. Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States, and 68% of these crimes are never reported to the police, often for this reason. The Me Too movement has shown the world what many survivors have already long known – it is difficult to come forward as a survivor of sexual assault because our society still does not believe survivors.
As District Attorney, I would consider supporting legislation to further extend the statute of limitations for civil and potentially criminal prosecutions of sexual assault beyond recent extension in the law. I would lead a public awareness campaign about the importance of believing survivors to further promote sex crimes reporting. She would also increase office training on the use of experts in cases to opine on sexual assault and the many reasons why survivors fail to come forward immediately, why sexual assault survivors’ recollection of the incident may be hazy at some points and crystal clear at other points, and other associated specific psychological characteristics common to sexual assault survivors. Finally, I would support exploration and testing of efforts to utilize technology in situations where persons want to track or confidentially report sexual assault and pursue justice outside of the criminal legal process, as has recently been utilized with apps in college campus settings.
Supporting Victims of Property Crimes
After passage of criminal justice reforms in California, property crime remains on the decline in Los Angeles County. In 2019 there was a 1.8 percent decline in property crime. As District Attorney, I would seek to continue this downward trend. My approach to dealing with property crime would depend on the type of offense and the motivation of the offender. For property crimes that stem from poverty, substance use and mental health issues, there must be an increased focus on restorative justice options to treat and address the issues causing the behavior. When Deputy District Attorneys have dockets that overflow with low-level poverty driven offenses, they are unable to focus time and resources on more serious offenses. When it comes to sophisticated criminal networks I would support sophisticated policing and prosecution strategies in partnership with law enforcement agencies to take down an entire network. I would also support private-public partnerships to provide resources to victims of property crime so that windows can be repaired, damage cleaned, and harm remedied more quickly.
Ending the Practice of Incarcerating Victims
Under California law, if a victim is properly served with a subpoena to testify in court, and does not show up pursuant to a subpoena, a prosecutor can ask the judge to issue a “body attachment,” or a warrant to arrest the victim to force them to comply with the subpoena and testify. Once a “body attachment” is issued, there is effectively a warrant out for that victim. If law enforcement comes into contact with the victim, the victim may be arrested, taken into custody and brought into court at the next court date.
Recently, our incumbent District Attorney admitted that she still utilizes this archaic practice, saying her office “only rarely” arrests victims. As District Attorney, I would end this practice. A victim should never be re-traumatized with an arrest. I would focus instead on efforts to provide services and assistance to survivors, to empower them to come forward when they are ready.