SAN FRANCISCO—A woman who previously sued the San Francisco Police Department for not processing and investigating her rape kit properly after she was sexually assaulted took her case to the United States Supreme Court on Monday, July 29.
Heather Marlowe, writer, and performer in her solo show, The Haze—a narrative about her experience with SFPD’s investigative team after she was sexually assaulted during a city-sanctioned event—will now face her third round of case hearings as she asks the Supreme Court to listen to her claim.
On April 6, 2010, Marlowe was drugged by an attendee at the annual Bay to Breakers event when he offered her a beer at the local foot-race. She woke up 8 hours later inside the stranger’s home where he told her they had just had sexual intercourse. As stated in her federal lawsuit filed back in 2016, Marlowe went to the nearest emergency room and contacted the SFPD for help. They transferred her to San Francisco General Hospital where she was assured by the nurse and SFPD officers that her rape kit would be processed within 14 to 60 days.
On December 15, 2010, an officer told her that neither her rape kit nor the DNA of a potential suspect were processed at that time.
She was told to call back in 6 months, and when she did, Marlowe was informed that “because there was such a ‘backlog’ at the lab of more “important crimes” that it could [take] substantially more time until the processing of her rape kit.” She was told that the suspect’s DNA had been misplaced and the San Francisco Police Department was not sure of the exact location of the suspect’s sample.
Marlowe states in her lawsuit that the SFPD made her do things during her investigation that could have put her in further harm’s way, such as entering the suspect’s home alone to retrieve parts of her memory that may have aided the investigation, and creating a false identity to “make contact with [the suspect]… flirt with him in order to elicit a confession… [and] set up a date with [the suspect] to prove that Marlowe could identify him in a crowd.” It was reported in the lawsuit that if Marlowe were to refuse these orders, officers would no longer investigate her sexual assault case.
It wasn’t until over two years after Marlowe’s sexual assault that her rape kit was tested and processed in the department’s database. It was later revealed in SFPD’s own internal audit that they only tested “753 of the several thousand untested rape kits” in 2014, around the time that Marlowe filed her first Citizen’s Complaint with San Francisco. Marlowe has never been given the results of her rape kit test or the suspect’s DNA test.
Marlowe’s case was dismissed in January 2017 by a United States District Court, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal in February. Marlowe has now filed her case with the Supreme Court, and they will decide whether or not to take up her claim on October 1, 2019.