Victims to the left of me, accusers to the right: Does Bobby Franklin know something we don’t about rape?
Georgia state representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) has recently proposed a bill that would require the word “victim” to be replaced with “accuser” in the state’s criminal codes. If this were the whole story, the bill might pose a moderately interesting metaphysical question: aren’t all crime victims merely accusers unless and until a court delivers a conviction? While the answer to that question is perhaps rather obviously no, that is not the question the bill actually raises: Rep. Franklin doesn’t think that people who claim to have been robbed, assaulted, or defrauded are merely “accusers.” No, those people are still “victims” even before a conviction is handed down, and indeed even if no conviction ever materializes. The bill only applies to certain crimes – namely, rape, stalking, and family violence. That is, the only crimes affected by this bill are those crimes disproportionately committed against women and committed disproportionately by men.
What accounts for this exceptional treatment? Neither the bill nor Rep. Franklin himself offers insight into the bill’s logic, and so we are left to speculate. Perhaps Rep. Franklin has fallen victim (or do I mean accuser?) to the unfounded yet persistent belief that false accusations of rape are significantly more common than those of other crimes. The bill provides yet another opportunity for misogynists to rehash hysterical statistics on false rape reports (one site,”Fathers for Life,” goes so far as to claim that there are 520,000 false rape allegations per year, a number that the site claims to work out to a whopping 98.1% of all reported cases – interesting numbers, because according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there are closer to 250,000 sexual assaults per year, which would mean that 520,000 false reports would actually work out to an impressive false allegation rate of about 200%…) as well as a host of other anti-feminist canards, such as the claim that feminists don’t believe women ever lie about rape. How wearying it is to have to cover the same ground, over and over: of course people sometimes lie about rape. They also sometimes lie about robbery, and fraud, and assault. No reliable study – that is, any study that does not simply categorize as false all reports not resulting in convictions (an unconscionable conflation even without considering the documented, widespread manipulation and miscategorization of rape claims by police departments) – has ever shown that false reports of rape are significantly more common than false reports of other crimes. Yet false rape reports receive far more media attention than false reports of other crimes; rape claims are subject to more skepticism and invasive investigation than other claims; and rape is, for these and many other reasons, a vastly underreported crime.
And yet Rep. Franklin has proposed a bill that actually manages to make the status quo worse – one that actually increases the skepticism and prejudice that victims (yes, victims) of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence already endure. Even if there might be some merit in a general prohibition on the term “victim” prior to a court determination that a crime has been committed (although whatever merit this prohibition would have is meager indeed, as it defies logic to claim that a person has only been victimized if some perpetrator is proven guilty of the crime in a court of law. This would mean that all unsolved murders have no victim; all unreported crimes have no victim; all crimes not resulting in convictions due to bad lawyering or jury error have no victim), to apply this prohibition only to crimes committed primarily against women is simply unjustifiable.