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French Police Deploy DNA Dragnet To Solve Rape Of Teen

Police in France are taking DNA samples from more than 500 male high school students in western France in hopes of identifying the person who raped a 16-year-old girl.

The assault reportedly occurred at a private Roman Catholic school in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast on Sept. 30. Investigators are trying to match DNA found on the victim's clothing, the BBC says.

Prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle is quoted by The Associated Press as saying that since authorities began taking samples early Monday, no one had refused. Pagenelle says she has warned that anyone declining to give a DNA sample would be considered a suspect and could be taken into custody.

According to the BBC:

"Saliva samples will be taken from 475 students, 31 teachers and 21 other adult males who were on the premises at the time.

"Two classrooms are being used for the collection of DNA, which is due to end on Wednesday. The school has nearly 1,300 pupils in total."

Pagenelle says investigators have run out of leads in the rape, which reportedly occurred in a dark bathroom at Fenelon-Notre Dame high school, according to the AP.

"The choice is simple for me," Pagenelle said. "Either I file it away and wait for a [DNA] match in what could be several years, or I go looking for the match myself."

The samples are being taken with a swab under the tongue, and results could take months, according to authorities.

The Local, an English-language news site in France, says:

"[Some] have condemned the move as a clear violation of civil rights.

" 'Refusing to give a DNA sample when not in custody is a right,' prominent defence lawyer Joseph Cohen-Sabban told newspaper Le Figaro.

" 'It's ludicrous! They want to decide on taking someone into custody based on that person exercising their rights,' he said. 'Then, once in custody, it's against the law to refuse to give a DNA sample. ... This is a truly unacceptable abuse of process.' "

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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