French Cops DNA Test 500 Schoolboys On A Mission To Track Down A Rapist

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 97 percent of rapists will never see the inside of a prison cell. But French police are doing everything they can in one 16-year-old's case to make sure that this statistic doesn't stick in France: On Monday, police began taking mass DNA samples from male students at Fenelon-Notre Dame, a secondary school in La Rochelle, France, insisting that the collecting DNA from 527 individuals was the only way to find the young woman's attacker.

The female student was raped on September 30, 2013, in a bathroom on the closed campus. While she was unable to identify her attacker given the lack of lighting at the time, police were able to collect DNA evidence from her clothing, which they are now planning to match amongst more than 500 samples.

Last week, summons were sent to 475 teenage students, 31 teachers and 21 others who were on the campus of the private Roman Catholic school. Until then, the details of the attack had been kept tightly under wraps, with school authorities attempting to keep speculation at bay. Some parents reacted angrily to the hush-hush tactic, with one parent posting on the school website:

What shocks me, apart from the fact that a young girl has suffered such a horrible attack, is the fact that the parents weren't told earlier.

However, now that a judge has approved the mass testing, the school is receiving flack from individuals who believe that the process is a gross violation of privacy. Joseph Cohen-Sabban, a prominent lawyer, told Le Figaro newspaper: "Refusing to give a DNA sample when not in custody is a right."

France also has rigorous privacy laws, with companies like Google coming under legal attack for storing user information. But in the case of criminal activity, France is on the other end of the spectrum, with a DNA database that encompasses an impressive 2 million people.

Most students seem to have no problems with complying with the DNA requests, which do require parental permission for minors, and is voluntary (though those refusing the test will, inevitably, come under suspicion). Thus far, no one has declined to give a DNA sample, and 251 individuals have been tested. In a show of solidarity, many male students have expressed their willingness to cooperate, and one student told The Guardian that he and his friends chose to participate because "we all support the young girl who was raped and we want the person responsible to be found."

Christopher Mesnooh, an American lawyer who resides in Paris, considered the logic and legality of the actions in a statement to ABC News:

What you have to do in this kind of case is you have to balance each person's right to privacy against what happened to this girl.

Thankfully, the French police are privileging the young woman's (and other students') safety.

This is not the first time that "DNA dragnets" have been employed to catch a perpetrator. In Australia, a rape of a 93-year-old woman in 2000 was solved using a similar tactic, when 500 men were tested. This ultimately led to the arrest and conviction of the assailant, a farm laborer. England has also successfully used DNA testing for criminal investigations, notably in the earliest years of the technology in 1986, when 5,000 men were asked to give blood samples in order to solve a case of the rape and murder of two teenage girls. Police also found the killer in this instance.

Unfortunately for France, the country has seen less success, with two rounds of testing for two different crimes in 1997 and 2004 turning up empty-handed. However, last year, an arsonist was arrested with the help of DNA testing, but only after he managed to set a few more fires and underwent further investigation.

With this case, however, the relatively small number of potential attackers and the methodical method by which the investigation will take place may lend itself to its success. In any case, France's vigilance is certainly a lesson the United States could learn when it comes to investigations of sexual assault.