A state legislator in Georgia has suggested that the term “rape victim” be changed to “rape accuser”, unless there has been a conviction.
The Huffington Post article on the matter displays a subtle outrage at this suggestion, by focusing on how many rapes are never reported and what this suggestion might do to deter even more victims.
I believe that the Huffington Post are wrong, and that they are completely unaware of what the real issue is here.
Women (or men) that are raped will not be affected negatively by changing the term in the proposed way. In fact, being the accuser is a position of action – you could even say strength – and that is very much a desired position within the judicial system. If you have been raped, you need all the strength and all the help you can get to pull through the ordeal that a trial can be.
The ones who may have a hard time with the proposed changes are false accusers. If you haven’t been raped, but plan to level a false accusation, being labeled the accuser might make you think twice about what you are doing. You may face charges for what you are doing, and this clarity may help deter women (and men) who never were raped.
However, the real issue here is not the proportion of rapes that are reported, nor is it the number of rape accusations that are actually false. The real issue is that if we (judicially) refer to a person as a rape victim, then we must have a perpetrator. This means that simply being accused puts you in the role of the perpetrator! The presumption of innocence holds that anyone is innocent until proven guilty, and this assumption is eroded by using the term rape victim before there has been a conviction.
The suggestion coming out of Georgia is a sound one, even if the Huffington Post is unable to tease apart the important perspectives.