Monday, February 14, 2011

From ‘Victim’ to ‘Accuser’: A Misguided Attempt at Courtroom Neutrality?

By: Shailee Diwanji

Last November, Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin introduced a bill to re-label "victims" of rape, stalking, and domestic violence cases, "accusers." The bill seeks 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 the circumstances where there has not yet been a criminal conviction."

The bill seems to have been met with little support from both sides of the aisle. Most agree that this bill could create an additional barrier to reporting the already underreported crime of rape. Worse, the bill disproportionately affects women, who form the majority of victims of rape and sexual assault. Besides creating a disincentive for victims to come forward, the bill leaves a glaringly obvious question unanswered - Are victims of these unreported crimes not victims at all, but simply accusers? Even when these crimes are reported, convictions are generally difficult to get and this bill just makes it more difficult to get a conviction because it insinuates, perhaps unintentionally, that the crime was fabricated.

Many want to know why these crimes were specifically targeted for reformation. As Carolyn Fiddler, the communications director for the Democratic Legislative Committee, pointed out, "Burglary victims are still victims. Assault victims are still victims. Fraud victims are still victims." There is, however, some merit to the notion of neutralizing the language used in the courtroom to encourage jurors to focus on the facts of the case rather than the emotions that necessarily accompany it. But even the proponents of language neutrality in courtrooms admit that "accuser" sounds rather hostile. Instead, they recommend "complainant," a term currently used in Pennsylvania.

The outcome of this Georgia bill remains to be seen. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has organized a petition urging Republicans to denounce this bill. It can be found at:

- Shailee Diwanji
   TMA Staff Writer

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