Woman sues San Francisco over unrelated arrest made using her DNA from old rape kit

By Alma Fabiani

Published Sep 14, 2022 at 02:39 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

A woman sued the city of San Francisco on Monday 12 September 2022 after she was arrested for an unrelated crime using the DNA that she had provided through a rape kit back in 2016 during an investigation into her sexual assault.

The anonymous woman, referred to as Jane Doe, filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had committed an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”

Speaking to The New York Times, Doe’s attorney Adante Pointer explained that the DNA used by the police five years after her assault in order to charge her with retail theft had been entered into a database without his client’s consent or knowledge.

According to the publication, this specific event is not the only time the SFPD has abused a victim of sexual assault’s constitutional rights. “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. “And instead, the police turned into the violators here.”

But it was only following the investigation into the woman’s case earlier in 2022 that the use of the DNA database became publicly known. The city district attorney at the time, Chesa Boudin, chose not to prosecute Doe.

Sexual assault survivors had been used “like evidence, not human beings,” he told the press during a news conference in February.

Following the woman’s arrest and how it shed light on the police misconduct occurring within the SFPD, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance this year that prohibits them from identifying suspects by using DNA from a rape kit.

And it seems like it helped spread awareness and lead to action being taken in other parts of the US too—with California lawmakers voting through a bill that would prohibit the same practice in August. As Wright State University professor Dan Krane in Dayton, Ohio, told The New York Times, while federal law forbids rape victims’ DNA from being put into the country’s national Combined DNA Index System, local versions of that law are almost non-existent, meaning that each state can pretty much do as it pleases with its own local database.

Krane said most law enforcement departments act like “stamp collectors” when gathering DNA.

As for Doe’s lawsuit against San Francisco, it’s currently unclear what kind of damages are sought. As first reported by The Independent, a city attorney spokesperson said in a statement that the city “is committed to ensuring all victims of crime feel comfortable reporting issues to law enforcement and has taken steps to safeguard victim information.”

“Once we are served, we will review the complaint and respond appropriately,” the spokesperson added.

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