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Santa Clara County supervisors seek to strengthen rights of sexual assault survivors

District Attorney: DNA evidence from rape kits has not and will not be used against victims

On March 8, 2022, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to have staff compile a report on the county crime lab's practices for handling DNA evidence from survivors of sexual assault. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to find ways to strengthen the privacy and rights of victims of sexual assault when they submit DNA evidence, responding to allegations that San Francisco police used rape kit evidence to prosecute the victim.

The unanimous decision comes just weeks after the San Francisco District Attorney's Office reported that the San Francisco Police Department had used DNA evidence from a victim, who had taken forensic medical exam following an alleged rape in 2016, in order to link her to a felony property crime.

The office accused the police department of lumping DNA evidence from sexual assault forensic exams into a larger pool of DNA evidence used to search for suspects, which could be a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In a statement, Police Chief Bill Scott said the department is "reviewing" its DNA collection policies, and that he would be "committed to ending" the practice of using DNA evidence against sexual assault victims if it was truly used to incriminate them.

The charges against the woman have since been dropped.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, which operates a forensic lab serving all criminal justice agencies in the county, prohibits the use of DNA evidence from rape kits from being used to prosecute survivors, according to a board referral by Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. Still, she said the county should take a close look at its own policies and find ways to further strengthen the rights of survivors of sexual assault.

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What allegedly took place in San Francisco not only violates the privacy of the survivor, Chavez said, but could have a chilling effect on future victims who already distrust law enforcement and underreport sex crimes, specifically women of color and members of the LGBT community. Many victims, mostly women, will decline a forensic exam following a sexual assault.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez is pushing for greater protections for survivors of sexual assault who submit DNA evidence. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"If survivors fear that providing vital biological evidence might be used against them later, they are less likely to cooperate," Chavez wrote in the referral. "We cannot allow the further victimization of sexual assault survivors."

Supervisors voted at the March 8 meeting to have county officials come back with a report publicizing the crime lab's existing policies and practices for handling DNA evidence from survivors of sexual assault, as well as any possible ways to strengthen the privacy rights of victims. At the suggestion of county Supervisor Joe Simitian, the review will include both the Public Defender's Office as well as the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, the county's independent oversight agency.

Chavez said it should be clear to all that sexual assault survivors will not incriminate themselves by submitting to a medical exam.

"I want to make sure that survivors know that they can be safe in coming forward and getting help," she said.

In a press conference preceding the vote, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen reaffirmed that DNA evidence from rape kits has not and will not be used against victims, and that their goal is to protect survivors of sexual assault.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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Santa Clara County supervisors seek to strengthen rights of sexual assault survivors

District Attorney: DNA evidence from rape kits has not and will not be used against victims

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Mar 8, 2022, 3:09 pm

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to find ways to strengthen the privacy and rights of victims of sexual assault when they submit DNA evidence, responding to allegations that San Francisco police used rape kit evidence to prosecute the victim.

The unanimous decision comes just weeks after the San Francisco District Attorney's Office reported that the San Francisco Police Department had used DNA evidence from a victim, who had taken forensic medical exam following an alleged rape in 2016, in order to link her to a felony property crime.

The office accused the police department of lumping DNA evidence from sexual assault forensic exams into a larger pool of DNA evidence used to search for suspects, which could be a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In a statement, Police Chief Bill Scott said the department is "reviewing" its DNA collection policies, and that he would be "committed to ending" the practice of using DNA evidence against sexual assault victims if it was truly used to incriminate them.

The charges against the woman have since been dropped.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, which operates a forensic lab serving all criminal justice agencies in the county, prohibits the use of DNA evidence from rape kits from being used to prosecute survivors, according to a board referral by Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. Still, she said the county should take a close look at its own policies and find ways to further strengthen the rights of survivors of sexual assault.

What allegedly took place in San Francisco not only violates the privacy of the survivor, Chavez said, but could have a chilling effect on future victims who already distrust law enforcement and underreport sex crimes, specifically women of color and members of the LGBT community. Many victims, mostly women, will decline a forensic exam following a sexual assault.

"If survivors fear that providing vital biological evidence might be used against them later, they are less likely to cooperate," Chavez wrote in the referral. "We cannot allow the further victimization of sexual assault survivors."

Supervisors voted at the March 8 meeting to have county officials come back with a report publicizing the crime lab's existing policies and practices for handling DNA evidence from survivors of sexual assault, as well as any possible ways to strengthen the privacy rights of victims. At the suggestion of county Supervisor Joe Simitian, the review will include both the Public Defender's Office as well as the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, the county's independent oversight agency.

Chavez said it should be clear to all that sexual assault survivors will not incriminate themselves by submitting to a medical exam.

"I want to make sure that survivors know that they can be safe in coming forward and getting help," she said.

In a press conference preceding the vote, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen reaffirmed that DNA evidence from rape kits has not and will not be used against victims, and that their goal is to protect survivors of sexual assault.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

PA mom
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2022 at 1:12 pm
PA mom, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2022 at 1:12 pm

I've heard that police put more time and resources into investigating victims of sexual assault than they do in solving crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. In my experience, when I went to the police, I ended up having to cooperate with the police in proving my own innocence. Even though I had paper and DNA evidence for seven felonies, they ended up dropping my case, saying it was "low priority". I was a low-income single mother at the time, and I naively trusted the police to withhold judgment and be my advocates. I felt outraged, and my healing was as much about recovering from the way the police treated my as it was from the crimes themselves. Thank you PA Weekly for printing this story.


Ben Z.
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2022 at 2:38 pm
Ben Z., Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2022 at 2:38 pm

"We cannot allow the further victimization of sexual assault survivors."

You would think from reading this that the county prioritizes protecting victims of sexual violence.

I did, in fact, approach the board and supervisors and DA regarding inaction and retaliation that occurred subsequent to my report of child molestation. Said child abuse was facilitated by official misconduct.

Perhaps these statements would be more accurate if a disclaimer was offered.




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