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San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is starting a new unit to prosecute adults accused of assault and sexual assault crimes against children. “It is a long time overdue,” Harris said Monday, announcing the new team scheduled to be in place by the end of the month. The idea, she said, is to develop expertise in prosecuting the crimes and to convey their importance. People who find out a child has been assaulted may not report it, Harris said, “if they don’t think that there is a priority around the prosecution.” Two sexual assault prosecutors will move over to create the child assault unit. Team leader Linda Moore has worked in the office since 1987, and has led the domestic violence and career criminal units in the past. Assistant DA Wade Chow, who joined the office in 1996, was in the gang violence unit before joining the sexual assault team a few months ago, according to Harris and a statement from her office. Seven-year DA investigator Eric Gallagher and victim advocate Sean Reynolds, a social worker Harris recently recruited from San Francisco General Hospital, are also assigned to the new unit. In the past, the sexual assault team has handled child sexual assaults, while child assaults have been assigned to a wider variety of prosecutors, Harris said. While the regular sexual assault unit prosecutes some of its cases vertically — with one prosecutor assigned to a case from beginning to end — that will be done with all cases in the new unit, Harris said. The DA’s office says it’s charged 64 felony assaults and sexual assaults on children since January, and the current caseload numbers approximately 35. The DA has spoken of dedicating a prosecution team to child sexual assaults since her campaign for district attorney last year. The DA, who took office in January, said Monday that she wanted to implement the new unit by the end of the year, though she hasn’t received any additional funding for it yet. She’s still hoping for more money for additional lawyers, she said. She’s also hoping for corporate support to hire a psychologist who could help victims, as well as educate juries about “syndromatic issues,” according to a statement from her office. Kathleen Baxter, director of the San Francisco Child Abuse Council, said advocates for child victims have been pushing for a specialized unit for a long time. “We hope to make San Francisco a model city in the way we handle crimes against children.” While other prosecutors’ offices may have teams targeting sexual assaults against children, the DA said the new unit will stand out for combining physical and sexual assaults. “The dynamic and the pathology of those crimes is very similar.”

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