San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Monday accused the city's Police Department of using DNA from a victim's rape kit to link her to a separate crime.
According to Boudin, police recently used a law enforcement database with DNA collected from sexual assault victims to help them identify a crime suspect.
During sexual assault investigations, victims voluntarily submit their own DNA, as well as other biological evidence such as bodily fluids, fingernail scrapings, and bite and scratch marks. The victim's own DNA is submitted in order to distinguish it and exclude it from that of the perpetrator's DNA.
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"Rapes and sexual assault are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic. 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," Boudin said in a statement. "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. This is legally and ethically wrong."
Boudin is raising concerns after he came across a document in a current case that showed San Francisco Police detectives compared DNA from a rape kit collected in 2016 with DNA collected at a felony property crime scene recently. A former victim of the case was identified as a suspect.
"Our conversations with leadership at the SFPD Crime Lab suggest that this is a routine practice not only in San Francisco, but other crime labs across the state."
Boudin is calling for local and state legislation to specifically outlaw the practice.
"We're here today, to denounce the practice of using rape and sexual assault survivors DNA without their consent, of storing their DNA indefinitely," said Boudin during a press conference Tuesday.
He was surrounded by victims' advocates who joined him in voicing their concerns.
"It is re-victimizing the victim. It is unacceptable. We need to address this," said Pamela Tate with Black Women Revolt Against Domestic Violence.
California Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen are in support of Boudin's call for legislation.
"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," Wiener said.
"There are already enormous barriers for victims of rape to come forward to report the crime," Ronen said. "I have asked to 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 that rape. Rape victims' DNA should be protected at all levels of government, anywhere."
Police Chief Bill Scott responded to the allegations, saying police officials are reviewing the matter, but said the department's existing DNA policies are within state and national laws.
"We must never create disincentives for crime victims to cooperate with police, and if it's true that DNA collected from a rape or sexual assault victim has been used by SFPD to identify and apprehend that person as a suspect in another crime, I'm committed to ending the practice," Scott said. "Although I am informed of the possibility that the suspect in this case may have been identified through a DNA hit in a non-victim DNA database, I think the questions raised by out District Attorney today are sufficiently concerning."
The allegations by Boudin come as both the Boudin's office and the Police Department are in the middle of resolving a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies that allows the District Attorney's Office to investigate police use-of-force incidents.
“Whatever disagreements District Attorney Boudin and I may have, we agree that this issue needs to be addressed. At the end of the day, our respective departments exist to do justice for victims of crime. The last we should ever do is discourage their cooperation with us to accomplish that."