ATLANTA — Roy Barnes recently released one of the most scandalous television ads of this year’s Georgia elections. The ad accuses Republican candidate Nathan Deal of attempting to weaken Georgia’s rape shield law. The ad alleges that, under the law, rape victims would have had to “take the stand” to prove that they “didn’t deserve to be raped.”
By now, most voters probably take campaign ads with several grains of salt, but many probably have wondered whether the charges in the ad were true. Politifact Georgia has completed an analysis that rates the ad as being “half true.” Twenty years ago, in 1991, when Nathan Deal was still a Democrat, he sponsored a bill to conform Georgia’s rape shield law to federal law. When the bill met with substantial opposition, Deal amended it to address the concerns of women’s groups. Even so, the bill never became law.
Deal’s bill, like the rape shield law in force at the time, barred the victim’s sexual past from being discussed in most cases. Both did allow an exception if there was a claim that the sex may have been consensual. According to Politifact, Deal’s bill would have added exceptions in cases where the prosecution entered evidence of semen, injury, pregnancy, or disease. The bill did not specifically prohibit the defense from considering the victim’s “mode of dress,” as the old law did. Under the proposed law, a judge would make a determination as to whether such a line of questioning would be allowed. The changes to the law were supported by the Georgia Bar Association and Barnes himself was a member of the committee of the Georgia Bar that would have reviewed the legislation.
Politifact does note that Deal’s bill differed from federal law on two points. First, the inquiry into the victim’s past was only triggered by semen or injury in federal law. Second, federal law required fifteen days notice by the defense before such evidence could be presented.
Though technically true, it is unlikely that the ad will save Barnes. The incident took place twenty years ago and the changes to the law that Deal proposed were relatively minor. Additionally, the bill never became law and Deal did not reintroduce it. Furthermore, voters are often turned off by sensational negative ads. There are so many of these ads that they frequently get “tuned out” or ignored.
Georgia voters today are less likely to be concerned with a twenty-year-old bill that never became law than with which candidate can best foster job creation, repair Georgia’s economy, and resist power grabs from Washington. The most recent poll bears this out with Deal retaining a 49-39 lead over Barnes. This means that Deal’s lead has actually increased from a month ago when he faced revelations about his financial dealings that led to questions about whether he would have to declare bankruptcy. As the race heads into the final days before the election, it appears that, for better or worse, Nathan Deal will be Georgia’s next Governor.