Shadow Identities: DNA Applications in High-Risk Populations

Shadow Identities: DNA Applications in High-Risk Populations
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Resources
Recorded: August 20, 2015
Unit 1 Slide Deck
Unit 2 Video


Human exploitation plagues our industries and communities, from migrant farm workers held under debt bondage, to the sheltering of hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children, to sex trafficking in our major cities along trucking routes. Women, men, and children in these situations are at risk of exploitation, abuse, death, and disappearance. A multi-pronged effort is necessary to address human exploitation. As DNA technologies advance and become more readily accessible, pilot programs have emerged that include DNA collection and analysis as part of a comprehensive approach to investigate human trafficking and illicit migration. Unlike other biometric forms of identification, DNA is useful for establishing biological relationships, making it ideally suited for resolving questions of relatedness. DNA samples may be collected from detained or discovered victims as a pre-emptive step to catalogue at-risk populations for post-mortem identification. Developing a successful model for identifying trafficking and homicide victims is complicated by concerns of privacy and risk of abuse of power. It is vital to establish policies to guide laboratory operations and protect the individuals at risk of misuse of their samples and resulting profiles. The voluntary nature of provision of DNA samples from individuals who may be considered as either victims or criminals by law enforcement introduces complex considerations regarding confidentiality and privacy of the individuals’ samples and DNA profiles. Yet, the application of genetic technologies to further the identification of trafficking victims is a powerful notion that demands exploration. Careful evaluation of emerging DNA applications is essential for developing policies that protect victims, high-risk individuals, and innocent citizens from abuses of power. Hearing the voices of the victims and victims’ advocates provides an opportunity to frame programs to minimize harm and maximize utility of DNA for humanitarian identification.


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