Monday, February 7, 2011

Guilty Until Proven Victim

We're used to using and hearing the words "domestic violence victim" and "rape victim", but when does a person become a victim under the law?

According to Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta), a victim should not be called a victim until the person who victimized them is convicted of a crime. Therefore, you cannot be a victim of rape until a person is proven guilty of raping you.

It almost makes sense. After all, in this country, our legal system is meant to assume you are innocent until you are proven to be guilty. Therefore, until a crime is proven to be committed, there is no victim of that crime.

However, the lawmaker in question isn't applying his objection to the word "victim" to every crime. Robbery victims still get to remain victims. Trespassing victims are still victims. According to Representative Franklin, only the victimhood of rape, stalking, obscene telephone contact with a minor, and domestic violence victims should be called into question. We wonder why he chose those specific crimes.

Melissa at Shakesville has a theory.

Could it be because those are the only crimes around which we have narratives about multitudinous false accusations, despite the fact that false reports of sexual violence are lower than false reports of auto theft, and despite the fact that there is a higher threshold for convincing law enforcement to take action on reports of sexual violence and harassment than any other crime, and despite the vanishingly low percentage of reports that go to trial and the minuscule conviction rates?

Could it be because implying that people who report sex crimes and/or harassment are liars is an integral tool and prevalent narrative of the rape culture, which exists to protect rapists—a pretty significant constituency of any politician, since around 12% of men (pdf) have, by their own admission, committed sexual assault or rape, which is certainly much higher than the percentage of the population who commits auto theft, or bank robbery, or fraud?
Georgia ranks 11th in the nation for incidences of forcible rape and 10th in the nation for the number of women killed by men. We cannot afford laws that further stigmatize the reporting and prosecution of crimes against women by assuming that victims are liars. If you think our state congress should concentrate more on protecting women than on men who have been accused of committing a crime, call them and tell them so. Visit to find your representative.

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