No such thing as a rape victim?!?

On February 1 Jender brought Republican attempts to redefine rape to our attention.  Now there is more.  Georgia Republican state Rep. Bobby Franklin submitted a bill to change the state’s criminal code by removing the word ‘victim’ and replacing it with ‘accuser’ in cases of rape, stalking and aggravated stalking, obscene telephone contact with a child, and family violence.  The survivors of rape, stalking, aggravated stalking, children who are subjected to sexually explicit telephone calls, and those who endure family violence would be, by law, accusers, not victims.

For example, here is the proposed revision to Code Section 16-6-1 (lines 63-67 of the bill):

“(c) When evidence relating to an allegation of rape is collected in the course of a medical examination of the person who is the victim accuser of the alleged crime perpetrator, the law enforcement agency investigating the alleged crime shall be responsible for the cost of the medical examination to the extent that expense is incurred for the limited purpose of collecting evidence.”

It would take a long time to tease out the possible implications of changing those two words.  Here are just two:

Consider the number of survivors who are never legal accusers.  Changing those two words muddles the difference between a crime being committed and the act of accusing someone of committing that crime.  One can be a victim, a survivor of rape, without legally accusing anyone.  Given the under-reporting of rape, this is not an empty possibility.

Consider that government funding is provided for abortion, in compliance with the Hyde Amendment, in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.  What difference might it make to change our focus from a person being the victim of a crime, to being an accuser of a perpetrator?  I worry that this can lead people to think that one only becomes a victim after a perpetrator is convicted, and then what would be the consequences for access to abortion?

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee reports on this bill here.  The comments are (mostly) interesting.

15 thoughts on “No such thing as a rape victim?!?

  1. This is an outrage. One more way to not only muddy the waters, but to belittle the victim and depersonalize the crime. Damn them!

  2. Can anyone more proficient with the criminal code tell us whether other crimes in Georgia state law use similar terminology? For instance, in the section of the code pertaining to (non-sexual) assault, is the allegedly assaulted person referred to as “victim” or “accuser”?

    I don’t think the answer necessarily determines whether this amendment is a good idea, but it would say something about the motives of Rep. Franklin. The difference is between what might just be a foolish consistency and a truly vile attitude.

  3. I am not a lawyer or legal scholar, but I did snoop through the Georgia Criminal Code, which is available on LexisNexis open access. Most of the relevant law is in Title 16.

    In most crimes against the person, there is no mention of the victim. But there is lots of victim language in title 16 chapter 6 on Sexual Offenses. (Some of the stuff in there will make your hair stand on end. You should go look for yourselves because I frankly could not believe some of what I read.

    For example, I wonder why Rep. Franklin, had nothing to say about this (perhaps it is still on his ‘to do list’):


    “(c) When evidence relating to an allegation of aggravated sodomy is collected in the course of a medical examination of the person who is the victim of the alleged crime, the law enforcement agency investigating the alleged crime shall be financially responsible for the cost of the medical examination to the extent that expense is incurred for the limited purpose of collecting evidence.

    (d) If the victim is at least 13 but less than 16 years of age and the person convicted of sodomy is 18 years of age or younger and is no more than four years older than the victim, such person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall not be subject to the sentencing and punishment provisions of Code Section 17-10-6.2.”

  4. I don’t care so much about Rep. Franklin, vile or foolish or whatever. I do care about what I see as a growing movement in the US to roll back women’s rights.

    There is some discussion in the comments on the DLCC report about constitutionality and consistency that some might find interesting.

  5. Note also that accusations of rape need not come from the victim. If the victim is unconscious or in a coma, for example, the medical examiner might still make a fact-finding inspection of their body based on accusations made by a third party.

    I am also tempted to make this more pedantic point: If ‘accuser’ were here a legal synonym for ‘victim’, then rape followed quickly by murder would be metaphysically impossible; a murder victim is necessarily in no condition to accuse anyone.

  6. I am sure that there are hundreds of issues in Georgia law and government policy that need fixing. Why out of all those things does this legislator want to spend the time and money to deal with this issue? I find it really creepy that this obsession is rising out of the darkness at this time. I fear it is a sign of things to come if these people get more firmly in control.

  7. Thanks, alpha, for the link to Georgia state code. The below answers my question:

    “16-5-23.1. Battery

    (a) A person commits the offense of battery when he or she intentionally causes substantial physical harm or visible bodily harm to another.

    (b) As used in this Code section, the term “visible bodily harm” means bodily harm capable of being perceived by a person other than the victim and may include, but is not limited to, substantially blackened eyes, substantially swollen lips or other facial or body parts, or substantial bruises to body parts….” [‘victim’ occurs three more times in further sub-clauses pertaining to battery]

    So it looks like Rep. Franklin is pretty focused on making things more difficult for the victims of only certain crimes. I make no further attempt to provide anything like a charitable interpretation of this situation. He’s probably a monster.

  8. Longtime reader and fan, first comment, seeking some clarification.

    Re your point about “muddying the difference between a crime being committed and accusing someone of committing the crime”: how does this re-wording do that? It seems to me to be drawing the distinction more clearly.

    My reading is that in the quoted excerpts, the word “accuser” is being used in cases where one person is accusing another of a crime, while “victim” is used for people who’ve suffered a crime. As P. D. Magnus (comment 5) pointed out, these might not be the same person; even if they are they describe different kinds of involvement.

    In the first quoted excerpt (the first in the original post), the word “accuser” is being used in a situation where (a) someone is making an accusation, and (b) people are still trying to establish (via medical examination) whether a crime has been committed.
    The two quotations using “victim” (comments 3 and 8) both describe situations where it is unquestioned that a crime has taken place, and they refer to harm that people have suffered through those crimes (not to what those people may or may not have done about the crimes).

    I also notice that the changes eliminate the phrase “victim of the alleged crime”, which seems problematic. If a crime is “alleged”, i.e. not (yet) proven to have been committed, then isn’t the “victim” part also in question? (I’m not casting aspersions on accusers, btw, I just find the sentence contradictory. It was written into law, so someone expert must have thought it made sense, but it seems to imply that the speaker disbelieves either “victim” or “alleged”.)

    I should stress that I’m not trying to downplay rape or the many problems in the way it is treated by legal systems. Nor am I trying to make excuses for this politician.

  9. For the last 10 years, I have noticed increased activity in politics to removing any rights women have in America.

    It is time for revolution, as happened in Iran, Egypt, Jordan and numerous other countries where the women stood up against the cowardly acts of their political leaders.

  10. I share similar sentiments, Sassy. Sadly, however, I fear that most Americans are not willing to sacrifice their lives, their jobs, or even their time to stand up for what is right like so many people recently in Egypt, for instance.

    Although I used to deplore this claim, I now believe that we need to make most real changes from the inside; that is, inside the “system”, which, for sake of brevity, includes the kinds of dissent condoned/approved by those in power. (Unfortunately, this requires us to fight indulging in the personal benefits of allowing the system to corrupt us while we do the various things required to work our way through the “system” and/or into the “inside”.)

    Skipping a lengthy sociological analysis, I very roughly contend that social institutions in the United States have found and now maintain an equilibrium of sorts that involves imposing as much injustice as people will accept without forming the moral spines and engaging in the resistance activities required for an effective (and real/genuine) revolution.

  11. Garath, welcome to the discussion! I hope that I am not misunderstanding your concerns.

    In 16-6-1 c and 16-6-2-c the language and the situation being described was parallel and would no longer be in this bill.

    In crimes against the person, it seems to me that an accuser is a victim, but the reverse does not follow.

    16-6-1-c and 16-6-2-c regard evidence collection, which can happen without any sort of accusation being made (consider rape kits) or with an accusation being made by a third party. For example, see this article on Jane Doe rape kits

    While it is clear that in investigating rape, there is an assumption that a rapist exists. However, many many rape kits are collected without there _ever_ being an accusation.

    I don’t see that it is obvious that a crime has been committed in cases of aggravated sodomy and not in cases of rape.

    I worry that these kinds of changes support common but false assumptions that there are lots of false accusations of rape out there.

    I worry that there could be implications here that result in an increase in the under-reporting of this crime, a decrease the respect and comfort given to those who have been raped, and have bearing on the reproductive rights of US women.

  12. “I don’t see that it is obvious that a crime has been committed in cases of aggravated sodomy and not in cases of rape.”

    I should clarify: I didn’t mean that the ‘obviousness’ was because of the type of crime. I meant that the two quotations didn’t (seem to) refer to the accusation part of the process; they referred to situations where it was unquestioned that something had been done.
    The quotation about sodomy is about how to proceed when a “guilty” verdict is returned, i.e. after the court has decided that a crime has been committed and that they know who did it. The one about battery is about terminology for injuries, not about one person accusing another (although maybe that’s in the original context).
    Anyway, if they’re being removed as well then these points are a bit moot.

    I think you’re right that using the word “accuser” might cast doubt on accusations, or at least reduce support for them. That might be the intention, obviously. Calling someone a “victim” implies a belief that they have been wronged, while “accuser” is (theoretically) neutral about that.
    Then again, “alleged crime” also seems treat the claim as unproven. Nitpicking, though. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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