By Ava Schwartzapfel and Ivan Villegas
SACRAMENTO, CA – CA State Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 122, entitled the Genetic Privacy for Sexual Assault Victim’s Act, passed the Assembly with a unanimous vote late last week.
This bill is sponsored by both the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the Prosecutors Alliance of California as well as Black Women Revolt, a group that provides resources to and focuses on anti-domestic violence advocacy for Black women.
SB1228 was deemed necessary after the finding that San Francisco had been keeping DNA collected from victims of sexual assault within their “quality assurance database.” Not only was their information kept within this database, but they would also run the database to see if this victim’s DNA were able to put together any other possibly unsolved crimes.
After this news became public, sexual assault survivors and their advocates had called on the state legislature for remedial action. Thus, Congressman Adam Schiff called for a federal investigation.
Wiener (D-SF) said, “Survivors’ DNA should never be used for any purpose other than identifying their perpetrators.”
Federal law already prohibits sexual assault suvivors’ DNA samples to be included in the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), said Wiener.
However, there is no California law to date that correspondingly prohibits local law enforcement databases from retaining them. SB 1228 would fix this apparent loophole by prohibiting survivors’ DNA samples from being included in any database that permits a sample to be matched with another sample from a crime scene.
SB 1228 works to protect victims of sexual assault by forcing police to discard their DNA tests or rape kits after they have been used to identify their perpetrator. In fact, identifying their perpetrator is the only approved use of victim’s DNA or rape kits. This way, their DNA is not in the police system and cannot possibly be used against them in the future.
In addition to prohibiting local law enforcement from retaining survivors’ DNA and using it as evidence in unrelated crimes, SB 1228 would allow the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code to identify any subsequent steps needed to protect the privacy of Californians who have submitted DNA samples to law enforcement. The Committee would then decide whether a separate forensic oversight board is needed.
Sponsors of the measure said few sexual assault survivors report to the police in the first place, less than a quarter. And, those that do report only a small percentage undergo the DNA collection process. Sex assault survivors who undergo this process do so in the hopes that this evidence will be used to identify the perpetrators, not to be used against them in the future. Retaining survivors’ DNA becomes a counterproductive measure and ultimately would discourage reporting.
Cristine Soto DeBerry, Founder and Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California, said “this practice (misusing sexual assault victim’s DNA) makes it even less likely that a victim will report an assault or get help, and that makes us all less safe.” DeBerry also urged the Governor of California to join Senator Wiener and “reestablish trust between police and survivors of sex assault.”