Police in San Francisco have been using sexual assault victims’ DNA to pin them on new crimes, officials claim, after a woman was arrested based on a rape testing kit years ago.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement on Monday that his office heard about the potentially privacy-invading practice last week, when a woman’s DNA—collected years ago, when she received a rape exam and test as part of a domestic violence and sexual abuse case—was used by police to identify her after she was arrested on suspicion of a recent property crime.
Officials believe that victims don’t consent to this use of their DNA, and are worried that if cops are using rape kit evidence against victims, it will deter victims from coming forward after assault. That such sensitive material would be used from victims of a crime months or years later to incriminate them is a nightmare scenario; many women are already reticent to come forward about sexual assault and rape because they can be retraumatized during legal proceedings, when their DNA is being collected, and by cops.
“We should encourage survivors to come forward—not collect evidence to use against them in the future,” Boudin said. “This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings. This is legally and ethically wrong. 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.”
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was possible that her DNA came from a non-victim database, and not the rape kit, but that after the DA raised concerns about the practice, the department and the Investigations Bureau would “thoroughly review the matter.” He claimed that the current processes, however, “have been legally vetted and conform with state and national forensic standards.”
Victims of sexual assault are already often hesitant to go to the hospital for a test or seek help from police; cops frequently fail to treat rape victims with basic human decency in departments around the country. Backlogs of untested rape kits are still a huge problem. If they’re using DNA to try to catch these victims years later, it could keep even more victims from coming forward.
California Senator Scott Wiener said his office was looking into it. “Sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can undergo,” Wiener said in the District Attorney’s statement. “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. That’s why I’m working with the DA’s office to address this problem through state legislation, if needed.”