Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Perspectives of Women in Prostitution Diversion Program on DNA Collection for a High-Risk DNA Database

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Perspectives of Women in Prostitution Diversion Program on DNA Collection for a High-Risk DNA Database

Article excerpt


Genetic information is an ideal biometric tool for identification, particularly when compared to biological relatives through kinship analysis. Too often, unidentified remains are of vulnerable populations, including local and transient persons such as vagrant youth, homeless persons, drug users, sex workers, and undocumented migrants. Oftentimes, individuals of these populations travel with no identification or with false identifiers, making biometrics a necessity for investigating post-mortem identity. Preemptive DNA collection from high-risk populations is one approach to allow law enforcement to identify victims that may be challenging to identify post-mortem. Emergent programs within law enforcement have developed with a sampling of identifications made.

Forensic communities keen to use biometrics for identification benefit from social science data to document the perspectives of the populations whom they seek to serve. Assessing high-risk populations' perspectives on the use of biometrics for identification is challenging, particularly when individuals might be incarcerated, easily coerced, fearful of deportation, or non-English speaking. Women engaged with a prostitution diversion program provide an opportunity to engage with such a vulnerable population as a sample set of vulnerable populations' perspectives. Social science research on the social implications of forensic applications is vital to maximize success of humanitarian-based efforts for applying biometrics for identification.

Sex workers are at an elevated risk for becoming victims of violent crime, and DNA forensic analysis can be crucial for identifying these victims. National, state, and local efforts to coordinate law enforcement and victim services have escalated in recent years (Etchegaray et al., 2013), but our understanding of the effectiveness of these efforts to decriminalize sex workers and re-conceptualize their status as sex trafficking victims is limited (Seidenberg, 2013). Because prostitution remains a criminal offense in most jurisdictions, sex workers (whether voluntary actors or human trafficking victims) are unable or reluctant to seek assistance from victims' support providers, law enforcement, or the judicial system due to fear of prosecution for their acts of prostitution, fear of retaliation from their traffickers (such as pimps and madams), and general distrust of authorities.

Sex workers often avoid carrying legal forms of personal identification and might use false identities (i.e., aliases) when working "on the street," when confronted by law enforcement, and even when being treated by health care providers. Because sex trafficking victims might come into police contact using different aliases and without verifiable identification, identity is difficult to establish consistently for a single individual across jurisdictions. Sex workers have been referred to as the "missing missing," that is, missing persons who are never reported as missing (Quinet, 2007).

Because crimes against this population are scarcely reported, law enforcement lack sufficient information necessary to pursue investigations and connect crimes involving sex workers (Quinet, 2007). Homicide victims might be transported across state lines, and unfortunately, prostitution-related homicides represent a significant proportion of all homicides. Law enforcement officers have reported that sex workers servicing the longhaul trucking industry are most vulnerable. Sex workers and their clients are mobile, and this mobility, which frequently involves traversing jurisdictional boundaries, hinders law enforcement's ability to link related crimes (Ferris, 2015). Investigators often are unable to identify murdered sex workers, leaving hundreds of homicides unsolved(Potterat et al., 2004).

Forensic DNA approaches for human identification could vitally aid investigation of human trafficking cases (Kim & Katsanis, 2013). The use of DNA to investigate cases related to sex trafficking have broad applications from identifying homicide victims to connecting evidence of repeat offenders (e. …

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