Lately there has been a lot of uproar over the GOP’s attempt to redefine rape, ostensibly in the name of budget cuts but really in a sneaky definition-based attempt to attack reproductive rights, especially in teenagers. This has been discussed and argued ad nauseum by everybody, including yours truly. That’s not what I want to discuss today, however.
I’ve been avoiding this discussion here, simply because rape is a subject that cannot be truly well discussed in a sound-nuggety blog like this one. In my criminal law class, we broke out into smaller sections and spent extra time and effort reading up on and discussing rape. This was the only subject in the entire class for which we did this. During this time, it was made truly and abundantly clear how difficult it is to prosecute a rape case.
Nota bene: I am very well aware that not all rape is heterosexual, that not all rapists are men and not all victims are women. But I cannot say what I want to say if I am tripping over terms. Please forgive the simplification.
Rape is very nearly impossible to prove, especially given the number of ways in which it can occur. In many cases, a woman will have to put herself in extreme danger before a judge and jury will take her claims seriously—actions not in keeping with the common advice given to women: that if they find themselves being sexually assaulted, not to fight and thus be potentially seriously injured or murdered in the process. And yet, if a woman does succumb to unwanted sexual attention, then it’s altogether too easy for a defense attorney to cast doubt over whether she really meant “no.” According to a number of court cases, “no” only means “no” if it is accompanied by the bruises, cuts, and other injuries that indicated a struggle.
And those are the much clearer cases. Let’s not forget Rohypnol and other similarly used drugs, date rape (which is particularly insidious and difficult to prove), spousal rape, and forms of coercion that are not merely physical.
I mention all of this, because Bobby Franklin, a GA state representative, wants to make it even more difficult. He is introducing this bill, which will change the terminology for the purpose of legal proceedings: victims of rape can now only be called “accusers” when they bring their cases to court. Now, before we get into what this does or does not mean to the legal process, let’s take a look at the word “accuser”.
Who the hell wants to be an “accuser”? Could that word have any more negative connotation? This immediately puts a woman in the position of being that person who is pointing the finger, who is blaming, who is rocking the boat. We live in a society where making accusations is not really okay. The number of times I have said, and other people have said, “I’m not accusing you of anything…” in order to mollify somebody who feels put on the spot is pretty high.
Now let’s look at how difficult it already is to get women to come forward after they have been sexually assaulted (it’s even more difficult to get men to come forward for obvious reasons). It is estimated that 1 in 6 women have or will be sexually assaulted (1 in 33 men). Only about 40% of sexual assaults are reported to the police, and a smaller fraction of that make it to court.
Now let’s take a woman who has been sexually assaulted and who is suffering from all the physical, emotional, mental and social injuries she has just experienced and say, “I’m sorry, legally you aren’t a victim of anything until you can really prove it. This system doesn’t take you seriously enough, accuser.” You think she’s gonna make her court date?
Now, if you read the bill, you will see that the language is not limited to rape victims, but also to victims of stalking, domestic violence, and inappropriate behavior around children. Which leads me to wonder, frankly, about Bobby Franklin’s proclivities outside of the House.
Gentle reader, I don’t have the answer to rape, apart from don’t fucking do it. But apart from that, I don’t want to live in a society where we keep tightening up on the definition and the ability to prosecute effectively. Do you?