21 February 2011

A Victim Or An Accuser?

When is a victim an accuser?

She is when the crime against her is rape, stalking or domestic violence.

At least, that will be the case if a bill introduced by Georgia State Legislator Bobby Franklin is enacted.

I used female pronouns in the second sentence of this post because the vast majority of victims of those crimes are females.  For that reason alone, the bill is terrible.  

I am not the first person to report on this bill and its consequences for women who are victimized by sexual violence.  But so far, I haven't seen any comments on how much the bill reflects biases against class and lifestyle.  Given the nature of socioeconomic status and politics, those biases also are ultimately biases against women.

Franklin says that as long as there is no conviction, he wants people who report that they've been raped, stalked or battered to be classified as "accusers" rather than "victims."  For one thing, getting a conviction in such cases requires a lot of time and other resources of the victim as well as from law enforcement agencies.  Calling someone a mere accuser when she's a victim means that her complaint has less credibility than that of someone who reports, say, a burglary.  This would make getting a conviction an even longer, more difficult and more expensive process than it already is.  As women who are victims of such crimes tend to have fewer resources and are typically in more precarious work and domestic situations than other people, the changes Franklin wants will ensure that fewer victims will report such crimes against them.  

As it stands, the crimes that would be covered in the bill are among the most under-reported crimes.  According to a report from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 60 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the police.  And, if unreported cases are factored in, only 6 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail, according to the RAINN report.  People who say that they were victims of a crime that they didn't report, when asked, say that they didn't report the crime against them because of the logistical barriers involved in doing so and because they didn't feel that their complaints would be taken seriously.  Both of those factors would worsen if anything like Franklin's bill passes.

Sometimes I'm not optimistic about the course of events.  But I never expected to see, even in one of the reddest states, an attempt to re-create law based on notions about rape and the value of one gender vs. the other that people were starting to abandon during my adolescence.  In other words, it seems that Franklin still believes that women who say they're raped are simply fantasizing and "had it coming" to them.  Also, he's saying that our pretty little heads aren't capable of reason.  So, whatever we say is less credible than what men say.

African-Americans and members of other "minority" groups have similarly been seen as less credible.  That's a story unto itself, but it also relates to the story at hand.  Anyone who's seen as a "minority" by those in the power structure is believed to be less than credible:  childlike, or simply incapable of seeing things "clearly" and telling the "truth."

In other words, the bill that Franklin proposes is as much an attempt to disenfranchise people who only recently began to win and exercise the rights Georgians and other Americans have.  In that sense, he's the spiritual descendant of those who levied poll taxes and "grandfather rule"s against newly-freed African Americans during the Reconstruction.