Centering Survivors

Growing into a deeper understanding of the perspectives and needs of survivors and a broader view of the crossroads of sexual violence and mass incarceration.

4 min readAug 18, 2021

In 2016, I wrote an op-ed that does not reflect my evolved views about how to discuss sexual violence and the most effective ways to respond to such grave harms. Many of my words were inconsiderate and misguided.

I failed to step out of my role as a public defender — which is to ensure people accused of causing harm are not dehumanized by our criminal legal system — and failed to address the trauma of sexual violence and the suffering inflicted upon survivors.

I am sorry for causing any further pain to survivors of sexual violence, and to our community for speaking on a topic, that at the time, I was not fully equipped to address from a holistic standpoint.

The article arose from the response to a high-profile sexual assault commited by Brock Turner on the Stanford University campus. He was rightfully convicted in March 2016, and his conviction was upheld on appeal. He was sentenced to a county jail term, felony probation, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

In the article — Op-Ed: In Defense of Brock Turner’s ‘Lenient’ Sentence, published by San Jose Inside — I wrote that judges should consider the humanity of everyone involved and aim for accountability and rehabilitation in sentencing. I also expressed concern that a large-scale ratcheting-up of sentences would disproportionately impact communities far less privileged, and ultimately result in excessive prison terms for poor people of color.

Five years later, I stand by those fundamental ideas. But now, I hold a deeper understanding of the perspectives and needs of survivors and a broader view of the crossroads of sexual violence and mass incarceration. This insight helped me understand the insensitivity of my words. I take responsibility for those words, and do not think or speak in the same terms today.

In recent years, I talked with and heard from all stakeholders in the criminal legal system, including survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes. I am grateful for these conversations and opportunities to listen.

As a public defender, I continued to represent many people who are survivors of sexual violence, often suffered as children. I see the enormous harm sexual trauma has caused in their lives. I know that the harm spreads outward over time into our larger communities.

In the courthouse, I heard testimony from sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence victims. I listened to the victim impact statements of survivors.

I learned from the national reckoning on sexual and gender based violence, the #MeToo movement, and private conversations with loved ones. I reflected deeply on my own episodes of suffering harm as a boy. Through all these experiences, I have grown a great deal.

I have a deeper awareness that survivors not only suffer the lifelong consequences of sexual violence, but also endure secondary trauma from disrespectful, insensitive and ineffective responses of school systems, law enforcement and the legal system.

I have developed a greater understanding that survivors and their families want to be safe. When they report harm, they want to be seen and heard. They want offenders to be held accountable. They want the violence to stop. And they want the opportunity to heal and to move forward with their lives.

As an advocate for system reform that manifests true dignity, safety and justice for all people, I share these goals. I am also keenly aware of evidence-based research that tells us our criminal legal system all too often fails to achieve these outcomes. Less than one third of sexual assaults are reported, and even fewer end in justice for survivors and accountability for perpetrators. We must do better.

Too often, prosecutors treat survivors merely as a means to win convictions, rather than to secure justice and healing. Yes, convictions for crimes committed are an important part of the criminal legal system, but I believe justice for survivors demands more than that.

For too long, our legal system has sidestepped restorative justice practices and instead focused on punitive, lengthy sentences. The system has made the mistake of equating offenders’ years in prison with justice for survivors. Meanwhile, this solely punitive framework does nothing to eliminate or reduce future violence or support survivors. It’s time for a more holistic and evidence-based approach in our community.

No one should suffer in silence or alone. We know there are many systemic and cultural barriers that prevent survivors from disclosing sexual violence. Survivors, if they do report, must repeatedly detail the harms inflicted upon them to often untrained law enforcement officers. Once a case is over, we know that survivors are often left without continued services and support to ensure their long term healing and sustained safety.

As Santa Clara County District Attorney, I will work to foster a trauma sensitive, safe community culture that encourages survivors to report the harms against them.

I will fight to ensure that trauma-informed professionals hold space for those who have been harmed, ask them what they need, and respond with empathy, sensitivity and care.

I will establish channels to connect survivors with holistic resources, streamline processes to ensure access to justice, and provide survivors the support they need to feel safe and to heal, regardless of whether they participate in a prosecution and regardless of the outcome of a case.

I will seek evidence-based sentences and utilize restorative justice practices and interventions that honor and respect survivors, provide trauma-informed care, hold offenders accountable, and stop future harms while ensuring due process and dignity for all.

I will always listen to the voices of survivors, continue to learn from their lived experiences, and seek their collaboration towards the healing and safety of all people in Santa Clara County.




Santa Clara County DA Candidate. Public Defender. This account is being used for campaign purposes by Sajid Khan for District Attorney 2022.