San Francisco police under fire for using DNA in rape kit to link victim to unrelated crime

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin dropped charges against an accused burglar after discovering the accused woman was linked to the crime via DNA from her unrelated 2016 rape kit.

In what Boudin has called an “egregious violation of victim privacy,” the San Francisco Police Department crime lab has been using its database to connect the DNA of rape and sexual assault victims to close unrelated, open crimes, prompting a call from Boudin for an immediate end to the “legally and ethically wrong” practice.

“Rapes and sexual assault are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic,” Boudin said in a Monday statement. “I am disturbed that victims who have the courage to undergo an invasive examination to help identify their perpetrators are being treated like criminals rather than supported as crime victims. 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,” he continued. “This is legally and ethically wrong.”

The news is made even more repugnant by the fact that many California rape kits continue to go untested, and many rapists continue to run free.

“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,” Boudin stated.

California State Senator Scott Wiener agrees.

“Sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can undergo,” Wiener stated. “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. Yet survivors can at least be assured — or so they thought — that the sample they provide for a rape kit will only be used for the sexual assault investigation and not misused for other purposes.”

Wiener points out that the practice will likely lead to fewer victims agreeing to provide the crucial evidence in their fight for justice after a rape or assault.

“If survivors believe their DNA may end up being used against them in the future, they’ll have one more reason not to participate in the rape kit process,” Wiener said. “That’s why I’m working with the DA’s office to address this problem through state legislation, if needed.”

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen is also on board the push to stop the practice, citing the already “enormous” challenges rape victims face.

“There are already enormous barriers for victims of rape to come forward to report the crime,” Ronen said. “Any DNA evidence collected from victims of rape must not be used for any other purpose than investigating the rape itself and of course must never be used against the victim herself.”

“I have asked the City Attorney to draft legislation to prevent DNA evidence — or any sort of evidence from a victim’s rape kit — to be used for anything other than investigating rape,” Ronen stated. “Rape victims’ DNA should be protected at all levels of government, anywhere.”

Michael Risher, counsel at the ACLU Northern California, points out that federal law does not allow such samples to be loaded into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System used to compare DNA from crime scenes to that of convicted criminals.

“Local agencies that maintain separate databases should follow this sensible rule to ensure that victims’ DNA is not retained and used for unrelated purposes,” said Risher. “This is especially important for California law-enforcement agencies like SFPD because, unlike the federal Constitution, the California Constitution expressly protects privacy rights and victims’ rights.”

Melissa Fine


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