The Home Office has had to reduce the time the police hold the DNA of people not convicted of any crime. But six years is still unacceptably long and it is still unclear how many people's DNA will be kept indefinitely.
We are told that retaining samples helps catch rapists and murderers. But no reliable figures exist on how many violent criminals cleared of one offence were later convicted through DNA.
Despite having the biggest DNA database in the world, the proportion of reported rapes that result in a conviction on the charge of rape in Britain is an abysmal 6.5%. The catalogue of errors in the Worboys and Reid cases had nothing to do with storing DNA but with evidence (including DNA) not gathered, misinterpreted and even lost. Women can be disbelieved, denied protection and urged to withdraw. DNA will never make up for biased and careless investigations and prosecutions.
Yes, DNA can prove innocence as well as guilt. But this can generally be settled by DNA taken at the time – there is no reason to keep it for years. And there are concerns that minorities are overrepresented on the DNA database. Scientists have also warned against the dangers of over-reliance on DNA. We're defending one rape victim who has been arrested for making a false allegation on the grounds that no DNA evidence was found.
Can DNA be abused? We don't know. But mistakes are made, and politicians and police are not always motivated by justice. We have reason to worry that rape investigations may be used to "gather intelligence" not on rape but on anything. We have seen counter-terrorism legislation used for extensive surveillance of peaceful protesters. Parents sending kids to a school outside their area, people who don't clean up dog mess or anyone taking a photo of the police, have also been targeted. Corporations have invoked anti-stalking legislation, supposed to protect women, to get injunctions against lawful protests. And anti-trafficking laws supposed to protect the victims of trafficking are used to deport them.
When police stand accused of repressive behaviour in a number of spheres, while neglecting serious crimes including against women, it would be irresponsible to widen their powers.
For more than 30 years we have stood against attempts – by any party – to manipulate rape survivors' pain in order to attack human rights. When the rights of victims or defendants are undermined, this soon becomes the norm and justice can be denied to anyone. Recent increases in police powers have not benefited rape victims. Sexual violence against women remains pervasive and often unpunished.
In June, meeting with DPP Keir Starmer, we spelled out what should be done to reverse the endemic deprioritising of rape. He wrote to every chief crown prosecutor conveying our concerns. The issue is not the DNA, but the will.
Monday, 16 November 2009
Retaining DNA won't get rid of rape | Lisa Longstaff | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk