Say Her Name: The Republican History of Dehumanizing Women with ‘The Accuser’

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Wondering why the President and Republicans keep referring to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as “the accuser” as if she has no name?

Republicans have a history of painting women as “accuser” instead of “victim.” They’ve even tried to make this law. Republican state Rep Bobby Franklin of Georgia wrote a bill in 2011 to change the language from “victim” to the more hostile “accuser” in rape, stalking and domestic violence cases.

Brooke Baldwin noticed this as well, and chided the President for not saying Blasey Ford’s name:

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Not only is “the accuser” dehumanizing, it also suggests doubt and hostility toward the person making the complaint. It’s far from neutral, and yet news outlets have adopted it as the better choice over “victim” or “alleged victim,” which they have decided casts doubt.

I beg to differ.

Back when Franklin proposed this in 2011, in the height of the Republican “war on women”, it was seen as on the fringe. CNN wrote, “The proposed change angered some who felt that Franklin meant the legislation as an attack on rape victims and on women, who comprise the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault.
“I am dismayed … angry … and shocked by your wacked out ideologies concerning VICTIMS of rape,” one commenter wrote on Franklin’s Facebook page.”

They noted, “Carolyn Fiddler, the communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, wrote on the organization’s website that the legislation diminishes rape victims by questioning whether what happened to them is even a crime.

‘Burglary victims are still victims. Assault victims are still victims. Fraud victims are still victims,” she wrote. “But if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you have been victimized.’

… Fiddler said she would like to think that Franklin didn’t mean to diminish rape victims with the legislation. But she said the language displayed a “lack of empathy and awareness.”

…’It sounds a little hostile,” Tracy said of the term Franklin proposed. “It doesn’t have the ring of neutrality to me.'”

Back then, a writer on Huffington Post argued, “Can we please stop referring to Nafissatou Diallo as DSK’s “accuser?” She is his alleged victim. Every time someone calls her an “accuser” they undermine her credibility and bolster his….

Referring to the victim as the “accuser” reverses this process. She is no longer the victim of his (alleged) attack. She is the one doing something — to him. She is accusing him. In other words, she is now the perpetrator of an accusation against him. At the same time, he is transformed from the alleged perpetrator of sexual assault to the actual victim of her accusation. The public is thus positioned to identify sympathetically with him — to feel sorry for him — as the true victim.”

This was going on as House Republicans were trying to ban abortion except in cases of “forcible rape” and trying to force women to get an unnecessary and invasive transvaginal ultrasound if they wanted or needed an abortion.

Republican Rep. Todd Akin was trying to legally change language about rape to “legitimate rape.” He also said (incorrectly) that women can’t get pregnant when they are “legitimately raped,” according to doctors he’s spoken with (scary).

You can watch this here:

House Republicans, meanwhile, were trying to change the meaning of rape to “forcible rape.”

And Republican Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle was telling young rape victims they shouldn’t have access to abortions, instead they should turn “a lemon situation into lemonade.”

Back then, all of this was fringe but it is now the standard. We have come so full circle that “the accuser” is everywhere. It’s the go to word. Even here, on a liberal website. The Republican fringe term is now the accepted term, and it’s loaded with negative implication.

Blasey Ford has not proven her case yet, nor will she be given a chance to criminally. She does not bear the burden of proof in this matter, either, that is on Kavanaugh to show that he is worthy.

We do not run around calling victims of theft “accusers.” If someone beats up a man, the man who was beaten doesn’t get labeled “accuser” (though I bet if he’s gay, brown, black, a child, or poor he might).

Given the fact that only 2-10% of rape accusations are false, while only 35% of rapes are even reported to the police, the math tells us that veering so far to the right as to suggest she is the aggressor is inaccurate at best.

She is not Kavanaugh‘s “accuser.” She is his alleged victim, and I don’t say that because I think it makes things better for her. Believe it or not, most people do not want to be seen as a “victim” and it is one of the toughest parts of coping with the aftermath of being attacked. But victim she is.

Style guides suggest avoiding “alleged victim” because it casts doubt on whether it happened, which is true. But it’s better than “accuser,” which not only casts doubt on it but actually shifts the sympathy to the alleged perpetrator of violence.