By Rory Fleming
Criminal justice reform proponents often complain that prosecutors only care about crime survivors when they want the most punitive outcomes. There is evidence that some prosecutors feel this way. In Jacksonville, Florida, when a murder victim’s mother told the press she opposed the death penalty for her daughter’s killer, tough-on-crime prosecutor Angela Corey bashed her as being “more interested in publicity” than justice.
Sajid Khan, who is running for Santa Clara County DA as a progressive public defender, did not want the public to know that he was sexually abused as a young child. It was not something that is the public’s business, he thought, and it’s every survivor’s individual prerogative to decide how and when to tell their story.
In an March 6 email obtained by Davis Vanguard from someone close to the campaign, Khan reveals deeply personal information about the sexual harm he has suffered.
“As a young boy, I suffered episodes of being sexually exploited. I denied it as real for many years but in hindsight acknowledge what happened to me and how the trauma manifested in various aspects of my life. Through several years of therapy, I have experienced healing, found a modicum of peace, and taken back control of my life from the pain I endured.”
The email was sent to Huy Tran, who serves as Voter Registration and Community Services Director for the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee.
When asked about the email, Khan said he felt the need to set the record straight after a sustained smear campaign insinuating he does not care about survivors. The San Jose Police Officers Association, the biggest local police union, created a website called “Shocking Khan”; it has that same theme. (The name appears to be a knock against Khan, an Indian American, for his name. That fits with his opponent, DA Jeff Rosen, once issuing a county investigation against Khan that many considered Islamophobic and racist.)
Michele Dauber, a controversial Stanford law professor, has attacked Khan in much the same way. However, suggesting her ire may have been sparked for different reasons, Dauber has previously said “Never, ever listen to public defenders on any issue of public policy. They [sic] stupid and arrogant, a toxic combination.”
Friends of the Rosen campaign have essentially outed a survivor of child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, we are still waiting to know which Rosen deputy used his 13-year-old daughter as bait for a child molester. Will there ever be accountability?
Khan’s campaign manager, Amaris Leon, sent Davis Vanguard the following quote to describe her stance on these developments.
“As a lawyer, as an abolitionist, and as a rape survivor myself, I am proud to be a member of this campaign and I am proud of Sajid for having the strength and grace to open up about his trauma in the face of attacks about his character,” Leon said.
“Unfortunately, the experiences and voices like Sajid’s, like mine, and countless others are not the ones that are brought into the fold when it comes to reforming the criminal legal system. We have a society that seems to be uninterested in taking into account the voices of survivors of violence who do not want empty carceral punishment as a response system, but rather creating a system that invests in programs that focus on changing the behaviors of those who cause harm and in turn reducing the likelihood of future violence. Refusing to center those voices in the conversation creates a breeding ground for more harm and more violence.
Knowing that we have the unique opportunity to change the culture and conversation surrounding more effective approaches to addressing harm is precisely why Sajid is running for DA, and the reason I proudly took on the responsibility of managing the campaign.”
Rory Fleming is a writer and an attorney