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‘Safer with a bear’: Women in SF politics are done with being silenced about abuse

A silhouette of a man stands in front of a large window with an arched top, looking out at a domed building and surrounding cityscape in broad daylight.
Camille Cohen/The Standard

By Jen Nossokoff

“Would you rather find yourself in a forest with a bear or a man?”

The answer to this question, which went viral on TikTok, has sparked a national conversation. Women, myself included, are overwhelmingly choosing the potentially deadly animal—that is, the 8-foot-tall one that lives in the forest and is covered in fur.

Why we would pick the bear over the man reveals a profound, deep fear about the threat men pose to women when no one is around to witness their behavior. Too many women have faced men who prey on them, psychologically, sexually and violently. Too many women have been skeptically questioned or silenced when they dared to speak out. Only 1 in 3 rape victims report the crime, according to the Bureau of Justice

Even after the #MeToo movement, which was supposed to be a national reckoning on sexual predation, women in our society still feel safer with a bear. What this tells me is that we still have a deep, systemic problem in our society that needs urgent attention, including new legislation and education initiatives. 

Here in our own backyard, the San Francisco forest, political circles have lit up over two cases where political figures have been called out for sexual misconduct. First, the recent allegations against Jon Jacobo, who was active in Democratic politics, headed TODCO, a politically powerful housing nonprofit, and was vice president of the nonprofit Calle 24.

For years, Jacobo was a respected figure, charming and influential. During the pandemic, he was a leader for the Latino Task Force, where I worked with him directly. In 2021, I ran the clinical medicine teams for the Covid vaccine site in the Mission and saw him regularly. I was so impressed with him that I pulled him aside and said I hoped he would run for mayor one day. This was during the same period in which he allegedly assaulted Sasha. I knew him as one man. She knew him as another. 

Fortunately, when her allegations surfaced, some organizations cut ties with him immediately, including my own, the city contractor BayPLS, an action I advocated for. However, he kept many of his powerful and influential positions for three more years, until The Standard published its much larger, in-depth story. 

Similarly, Jay Cheng, who heads the group Neighbors for a Better San Francisco and is married to the president of another well-funded group, TogetherSF, has power within the San Francisco political scene that seems to overshadow past accusations against him. Jacobo’s downfall has thrust Cheng’s past back into the spotlight. Some top political leaders dismissed the allegations, saying he “was never charged,” ignoring the fact that most sexual predators aren’t. Others commented to the effect of “he was always nice to me,” failing to recognize that sexual predators do not target every individual they meet. These reactions are not just inadequate; they are dangerously dismissive of the broader issue of sexual assault.

Sexual assault cases underline a grim reality: Very few actually make it to trial, and when they do, the path is fraught with skepticism and victim blaming. This is why women chose the clarity of a bear’s intentions over the complex and often sinister ambiguity of interactions with men. The theoretical bear situation highlights another very real issue—a profound mistrust in the mechanisms meant to protect and deliver justice. 

Hearing victims

The cases of Jacobo and Cheng aren’t isolated; they are part of a longstanding pattern in which powerful people get away with unacceptable behavior. Here in San Francisco, we need to vigorously support whistleblowers, strengthen laws that enhance penalties for sexual misconduct, make it easier to report crimes and provide comprehensive sexual education that includes teaching people of all ages about consent. 

Some people who serve on the city’s Democratic County Central Committee, a group that holds serious sway in city politics, have been elected with support from Cheng. Given the obvious conflicts of interest, the DCCC must enforce stricter policies requiring people to step aside, particularly when the body is dealing with sexual assault allegations. The San Francisco Women’s Political Committee is urging leaders and influential figures to unite in steadfastly condemning sexual abuse, assault, harassment and predatory behavior at all levels of politics and between all affiliations in the city. We must act decisively and continue to apply pressure on elected officials to ensure these steps are adopted and effectively implemented. 

We owe it to the survivors, to our community, and to our children to create a society where fear and mistrust are replaced with genuine safety and respect. As a community, we must be engaged and vocal about demanding these changes and hold our elected officials accountable at all times. Public support and advocacy will create the political will for action. The clear danger of a bear is manageable; we must approach the potential dangers posed by men within our own community with equal clarity and determination.

Jen Nossokoff is a physician assistant and parent advocate who is running for the Board of Supervisors in District 1.

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