Woman whose rape kit DNA was used to arrest her in separate crime sues city of San Francisco
“I didn’t know that it would be used against me,” the woman told KTVU in March. “I didn’t know that that could happen. I didn’t know that was even possible.” She added: “I just feel violated again.”
Then-San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin shed light on the police department’s unethical practices, noting that the department often searched a database of DNA evidence that contains DNA collected from rape and sexual assault victims to identify crime suspects.
According to Daily Kos, at the time, Boudin called the practice “legally and ethically wrong,” and noted it “treats victims like evidence, not human beings.” After learning the source of the evidence, he dropped the felony property crime charges against the woman after learning about the source of the evidence.
He also noted that the practice is a violation of the California Victims Bill of Rights, which is supposed to protect a survivor’s privacy and guarantee that they are “treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.”
Advocate groups also noted that such practices could affect victims’ willingness to come forward.
“This is government overreach of the highest order, using the most unique and personal thing we have—our genetic code—without our knowledge to try and connect us to crime,” Pointer said in a statement to the Associated Press.
According to the Associated Press, Police Chief Bill Scott said that shortly after the practice was made public, the police department’s crime lab allegedly stopped the practice and changed its operating procedure to prevent the misuse of DNA collected from sexual assault victims.
Scott added that at a police commission meeting in March, he had discovered 17 crime victim profiles, 11 of them from rape kits, that were matched as potential suspects using a crime victims database during unrelated investigations. He noted that the only person he believes was arrested was the woman who filed the lawsuit Monday.
“The exchange is you’re going to use this DNA for a specific purpose, which is to prosecute the person who violated me,” Pointer said, according to The New York Times. “And instead, the police turned into the violators here.”
While there is no state law in California prohibiting investigators from retaining victim profiles and searching them in connection to different crimes in the future, lawmakers are working on one.
Last month, California lawmakers approved a bill that forbids the DNA collected from sexual assault survivors and other victims from being used for any purpose other than identifying the perpetrator. As a result, the bill, if made law, would ban local police from keeping and searching victim DNA in order to incriminate them in unrelated investigations.
The legislation is pending before Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“It’s already hard enough for sexual assault survivors to make the decision to come forward, report a crime, and undergo an invasive rape kit exam at the hospital,” state Sen. Scott Wiener said in a statement released in May when the bill first passed the Senate.
“The last thing we need is to send a message to survivors that if they come forward, their DNA sample may be used against them in the future.”
More than 10 million men and women experience domestic violence and abuse each year, estimates the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). You are not alone and what you are going through is not your fault. Click here for a list of resources for survivors.
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