By Katherine Coviello
SAN FRANCISCO, CA- Sexual assault victims’ DNA profiles were entered into a database that is used to identify potential suspects in other investigations by the San Francisco police crime lab, according to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
“My office is demanding that this practice end immediately, and is encouraging local and state legislators to introduce legislation to end this practice in California. We remain committed to doing everything in our power to support survivors of sexual violence,” Boudin stated.
Recently, a woman was identified in a crime using DNA from a rape kit that was years old. The woman was arrested on suspicion for a felony property crime, although the case has since been dismissed.
Boudin has expressed concern that this may have been a violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights because victims did not give their consent.
“We should encourage survivors to come forward—not collect evidence to use against them in the future. This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings. This is legally and ethically wrong.” Boudin said.
While the scope of this practice is unclear, it is suspected that the scope potentially includes thousands of victims over many years. It is currently unclear how often sexual assault victim’s rape kits were later used to incriminate them.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott expressed concern about disincentivizing victims from reporting crimes.
Sex crimes are already underreported. Eight percent of rapes and sexual assaults are thought to go unreported, a Justice Department analysis of violent crime found in 2016.
“Sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can undergo,” stated California State Senator Scott Wiener. “Coming forward after a sexual assault to provide a rape kit can be re-traumatizing. Too many people decide not to take that step, given the trauma.
Despite being underreported, there is a testing backlog concerning hundreds of thousands of collected rape kits.
“It is shocking that during the time many rape kits were going untested in San Francisco, those kits that were being tested resulted in the DNA of rape victims being saved for future, unrelated investigations.” shared the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.
Senator Weiner volunteered to work with the DA’s office to address this issue through legislation if necessary, and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen asked the City Attorney to draft legislation to prevent evidence from victims’ rape kits from being used for anything other than the investigating of that rape.