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Georgia State Lawmaker Seeks To Redefine Rape Victims As 'Accusers'

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WASHINGTON -- A Republican state legislator in Georgia doesn't like the term rape "victim." In fact, he has introduced a bill mandating that state criminal codes refer to these people as, simply, "accusers" -- until there's a conviction in the matter.

The legislation introduced by state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) would cover a number of crimes including rape, stalking and domestic violence:

To amend Titles 16 and 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to criminal law and criminal procedure, respectively, so as to change the term "victim" to the term "accuser" in the context of a number of statutes making reference to circumstances where there has not yet been a criminal conviction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

With Franklin's changes suggestions, the criminal code looks something like this:

Rape and sexual assault are chronically underreported crimes. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, "60% of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to a statistical average of the past 5 years. Those rapists, of course, never spend a day in prison. Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail." Under Franklin's definition, all of these people who didn't report their crimes aren't actually victims -- because there is never a conviction.

"To be classified, off the bat, as an accuser instead of as a victim places one more barrier to reporting the crime to the authorities," writes Amie Newman at RH Reality Check, who points out that Franklin's state of Georgia ranks 11th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for incidences of forcible rape.

Jennifer White, attorney for legal programs at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, said that even when victims do come forward, prosecutions and convictions are still often incredibly difficult to get.

"Changing, just for these particular crimes, the word 'victim' to 'accuser' really buys into an outdated and disproved myth about victims who come forward with these kinds of allegations," said White. "I think it's a sad reality that for some reason, it's easier for society, in some respects, to believe that a victim would fabricate this type of crime than to believe that a person is capable of committing certain atrocities. And it really has a chilling effect for victims who already have an extremely difficult time coming forward."

Franklin did not respond to a request for comment.

After significant criticism this past week, House Republicans dropped language from legislation sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) that would have redefined rape in a bill prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for abortions. While federal law has traditionally exempted restrictions on abortion access for women who were victims of rape or incest, the Smith bill would have narrowed the definition to "forcible" rape.

UPDATE, 4:10 p.m.: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee writes, "To diminish a victim's ordeal by branding him/her an accuser essentially questions whether the crime committed against the victim is a crime at all. Robbery, assault, and fraud are all real crimes with real victims, the Republican asserts with this bill."

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