San Francisco police misused DNA of rape victims, DA says

The San Francisco district attorney said Monday that police used a database containing DNA collected from rape and sexual assault victims to link some of them to crimes.

Dist. Atti. Chesa Boudin said the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab used the database to “attempt to subsequently incriminate” victims of rape and sexual assault, a practice he called a “legally and ethically wrong”.

The district attorney called for an immediate end to the alleged practice, pledged to work with police to respond to the allegations and urged changes to local and state laws, according to a statement from Boudin’s office.

“I am troubled that victims who have the courage to undergo an invasive examination to help identify their perpetrators are treated like criminals rather than supported as victims of crime,” Boudin said. “We should be encouraging survivors to come forward – not to collect evidence to use against them in the future. This practice treats victims as evidence, not as human beings.

Boudin did not identify the database, but said a woman was recently arrested on suspicion of committing a property crime based on her DNA collected years ago during an examination rape related to domestic violence, according to the Associated Press.

He did not provide many details about the case and said his office is still investigating how many sexual assault victims may have been arrested based on their DNA.

The San Francisco Police Department did not respond to a request for comment, but Chief Bill Scott told the AP he had ordered an investigation.

“We must never discourage victims of crime from cooperating with the police, and while it is true that DNA taken from a rape or sexual assault victim was used by the SFPD to identify and apprehend this person as a suspect in another crime, I pledge to end the practice,” Scott said.

State officials and organizations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault also spoke out on Monday.

Pamela Tate, co-executive director of Black Women Revolt Against Domestic Violence, said the database cannot be seen as a “blanket waiver” of victims’ rights against self-incrimination.

“This type of misrepresentation will have a chilling effect on black women and women of color reporting sexual assault crimes,” Tate said.

The legal system is not designed to support victims of sexual violence, said KellyLou Densmore, director of the San Francisco Office for Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention.

“Many survivors are already choosing not to share their experiences, especially trans people and cisgender women of color, LGBT people and other marginalized groups who may be suspicious of the police and face other significant barriers. to get help after a sexual assault,” Densmore said.

Michael Risher, a civil rights attorney who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said the alleged practice violates victims’ privacy.

Federal law prohibits law enforcement from uploading DNA samples from sexual assault victims to the National Combined DNA Index System, which is used to match DNA from crime scenes with samples taken on people convicted or arrested for crimes, Risher said.

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

After a sexual assault is reported, victims are asked to undergo an examination during which evidence is collected from bodily fluids, fingernail scrapings and any bites or scratches, Boudin’s office said.

“The victim submits their own DNA sample in order to exclude DNA that is from the victim, as opposed to the suspect,” the statement said.

But research shows that only a small percentage of victims go through sexual assault testing, an invasive and traumatic process for many survivors, prosecutors said.

“Victims of sexual assault consent to their DNA being collected for this purpose, not to have their DNA permanently stored in a local law enforcement database to be searched for years later,” they said. the prosecutors. “Using victims’ DNA to potentially incriminate them in the future further deters sexual assault survivors from going through what is already a very difficult and emotional process.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen also condemned the alleged practice.

Wiener said he was working with Boudin’s office to resolve the issue with state law “if necessary.”

Ronen said she asked the San Francisco City Attorney. David Chiu to draft a bill to prevent any type of evidence from a victim’s rape kit, including DNA, from being used for any purpose other than the investigation of this case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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