San Francisco District Attorney Drops Case Against Survivor Identified Through Rape Kit

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Do San Francisco Police Use DNA from Rape Kits to Identify Survivors in Separate Crimes?

Do San Francisco Police Use DNA from Rape Kits to Identify Survivors in Separate Crimes?

Feb 16, 2022

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has dropped a property crime case against a sexual assault survivor identified from DNA evidence obtained via her rape kit. The announcement comes after multiple news outlets including the Washington Post reported that the San Francisco Police Department has a history of using survivors’ DNA from past rape kits to identify potential suspects in crimes.

I want to be really clear about a couple things, one of the reasons that we’re all standing here today is because of a commitment to privacy for survivors of sexual assault, and because of that I’m not going to get into the details of one specific case,” Boudin said at a Tuesday press conference.

ABC 7 reported that the forensic medical form used for sexual assault survivors only includes consent to examination, treatment, and evidence collection related to the specific sex crime.

“There is no mention anywhere even in this fine print that DNA submitted in this process can be used for purposes unrelated to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault,” Boudin said at Tuesday’s press conference in reference to the form.

Boudin also indicated that accessing rape kit DNA for separate crimes is a “statewide problem.” “We don’t know how many thousands of cases may be implicated,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, the police department’s lab report indicated that, “During a routine search of the SFPD Crime Lab Forensic Biology Unit Internal Quality Database, a match was detected and verified. Direct comparisons with the samples listed below were performed.” The match was obtained through the survivor’s 2016 DNA rape kit sample.

The Washington Post also reported that the San Francisco Police Department’s practice of using DNA rape kits to identify crime suspects was routine and not an isolated incident. The head of the crime lab also confirmed that such searches are done “regularly.” ABC 7 reported that the method of using DNA rape kits to identify sexual assault survivors as suspects in other crimes has been ongoing since at least 2016.

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott issued the following statement, per the Washington Post report:

We must never create disincentives for crime victims to cooperate with police… 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 further stated that the police department’s DNA collection policies abide by state and local “forensic standards” and have been legally vetted, according to the Washington Post report.

Moreover, Scott stated that the questions and objections raised by District Attorney Boudin were “sufficiently concerning,” adding that he had launched an investigation into the matter.

The Washington Post also reported that Boudin indicated the use of a sexual assault survivor’s DNA to identify them as a suspect in a separate case is a “pretty clear” violation of the California Constitution, which mandates the “prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence.

“In this case, it’s no longer being used to prosecute the person who committed the sexual assault and should be destroyed or returned,” Boudin said to the Washington Post. Boudin also suggested the practice could be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects people’s rights “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

California State Senator Scott Weiner also addressed the issue via a public 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,” Wiener said, adding that he would “address this problem through state legislation, if needed.”

Hillary Ronen, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, confirmed in a separate statement that she had requested new legislation be drafted by the city attorney which would make it illegal for evidence to be collected from a rape kit to be used for “anything other than investigating that rape.”

“If survivors knew that their own DNA evidence would potentially be stored and used against them at a later date even less survivors would come forward,” Ronen added, according to ABC 7.

Using DNA rape kits “without the consent or knowledge of the victims and for purposes totally unrelated to the original sexual assault does real damage to the trust that we need from folks who survived sexual assault, and whose cooperation my office needs to be able to prosecute and hold accountable for causing harm,” added District Attorney Boudin.

The Washington Post also reported that San Francisco has struggled with a backlog of rape kits “like many cities across the country.” Nearly 14,000 rape kits in California have yet to be tested, according to End the Backlog, a project created through the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit advocating for sexual assault reform.

The national rape kit backlog issue has received increased attention following the release of the HBO documentary “I Am Evidence.”

Dordulian Law Group’s founder and former sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian, stated that using DNA rape kit evidence for anything other than the case in question could deter sexual assault survivors from reporting incidents to law enforcement.

It is tough enough for sexual assault survivors to come forward, and every effort should be made to protect their privacy, including the use of their DNA. There is already a system in place for collecting DNA from those arrested or convicted of a crime, and going beyond that measure is unnecessary,” Dordulian said.

How Often are Sexual Assaults Reported to the Police?

As anti-sexual violence non-profit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) confirms, the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported.

According to RAINN’s data, only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police (meaning more than two out of every three go unreported). Female student survivors are the least likely to report sexual assaults, at a rate of only 20%, while female non-student survivors tend to report at a rate of only 32%.

Why are Sexual Assault Crimes so Underreported?

According to RAINN, of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the survivor gave the following reasons not wishing to come forward:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason

Conversely, according to RAINN, of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the survivor reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:

  • 28% to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender
  • 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
  • 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
  • 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
  • 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
  • 3% did so to get help or recover loss

Contact a Los Angeles, California, Sexual Assault Lawyer

California sexual assault civil lawsuits may be brought by survivors in an effort to recover financial compensation for various types of losses. Depending on the circumstances of sex crime, compensatory damages may be pursued and recovered through a civil claim.

Examples of some common damages that may be secured through a California sexual assault or abuse civil claim include:

  • Counseling or therapy expenses
  • Emotional trauma
  • Psychological distress
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Hospital or medical expenses

Adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse are able to file civil claims up to 10 years after an incident according to the California statute of limitations on sex crimes. Moreover, the statute of limitations allows for a three-year window in civil claims where sexual assaults lead to the discovery of a psychological injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is a leading California-based sexual assault firm representing survivors across the United States. Founded by a former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG offers survivors a unique type of legal representation which includes a four-tiered team of professionals known as the SAJE Team.

Led by Sam Dordulian, DLG’s experienced sexual assault lawyers have helped countless survivors secure maximum financial damages awards.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Some of our recent sexual assault civil lawsuit victories include:

For a free and confidential consultation regarding your sexual assault civil claim, contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today at 818-322-4056. DLG’s sex crime attorneys have helped victims recover more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts while maintaining a 98% success record.

To read more about the California statute of limitations on sexual assault civil and criminal lawsuits, please visit our in-depth blog.

Go See Sam