Rape Kit Comes Back to Haunt Victim in SF

But the practice has now been formally ended
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2022 8:59 AM CST
Updated Feb 24, 2022 12:00 AM CST
Rape Kit Comes Back to Haunt Victim in SF
San Francisco Police Chief William (Bill) Scott answers questions during a news conference on May 21, 2019, in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Update: San Francisco officials announced Wednesday that the city's police department will no longer use DNA from survivors of sexual assaults and other crimes to investigate other, unrelated crimes. The practice ended as soon as the DA's office last week submitted a complaint, and it was formally put to rest Friday. As for the victim who was recently charged with a crime after being identified using evidence from her rape kit, those charges have been dropped, the AP reports. Our original story from Feb. 15 follows:

The San Francisco Police Department crime lab has been entering sexual assault victims' DNA profiles into a database used to identify crime suspects, which could be a violation of their constitutional rights. It's "legally and ethically wrong," District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Monday, per the Los Angeles Times, noting his office had learned that a suspect in a recent property theft crime was identified using rape-kit evidence submitted years ago as a sexual assault victim. Boudin said his office is weighing how to approach such cases as using rape kit DNA for any purpose other than investigating the rape could violate California's Victims' Bill of Rights and constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Boudin said the database could potentially include DNA from thousands of victims, submitted over "many, many years," though his office is investigating just how widespread the practice is. Officials don't believe it is disclosed on victim waivers. "Even if it were mentioned somewhere in the fine print, is that an appropriate waiver to seek from a victim who’s just come in and reported a sex assault? Absolutely not," Boudin said, per the Chronicle. "We should encourage survivors to come forward—not collect evidence to use against them in the future," he added, per the AP. Police Chief Bill Scott said he had ordered a review of the practice. He added the department's DNA collection policies "have been legally vetted and conform with state and national forensic standards."

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But "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 added. San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she reached out to the City Attorney's Office about drafting legislation to prevent evidence from a victim's rape kit being used for any purpose other than investigating that rape. "This should not be done at any level of government, anywhere," she said. State Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat, also said he would "seriously consider introducing state legislation to ban the practice," per the Chronicle. (More San Francisco stories.)

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