80 or so years ago, the FBI, for the purposes of reporting crime in the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” “Carnal Knowledge” is defined as penile penetration of the vagina. Because of this narrow definition many sexual assaults are not included in the UCR and so the actual numbers are very different that those being cited by the FBI. The Feminist Majority Foundation and MS. Magazine have been campaigning to get this definition changed to be more inclusive and it seems the FBI is listening. They announced a meeting to be held on October 18th to address the issue.
The current definition excludes: all male victims, victims under the age of consent (statutory rape), victims who have been drugged or are under the influence of alcohol, victims who were forced to have oral or anal sex or who were raped with a foreign object. This is a fairly large portion of all rape victims and to be excluded is to minimize these violations. If these acts aren’t rape, what are they?
Some local law enforcement agencies use a much broader definition so the rates they report sexual assault vary wildly from the FBI reports. One example provided is the city of Chicago. There they had over 1400 rapes that were not included on the UCR because they didn’t conform to the narrow definition being used.
One problem the FBI says they will need to address in changing the definition is getting the support of the various law enforcement agencies. Many of them use the same definition as the UCR and so by adjusting the definition, they would have a sudden spike in reported rapes that would have to be explained to the population of the area they protect. I can see why that may be cause for concern, many people may not understand that these crimes were happening before, they just weren’t being included on any reporting or statistical analysis because they don’t fit the definition of “rape.” It is important for accurate numbers to be available though. These reports are often what determine the budgets of rape crisis centers, phone lines and support services; if the numbers being shown aren’t accurate than proper support cannot be provided to the victims.
Rape is already an underreported crime because of the social stigma attached to rape victims. It is almost inevitable that a victim will be asked what they were wearing, had they been drinking, and even how many people they have previously had sex with if they choose to report their attack. Those who are willing to report their attack should not be overlooked because of an outdated definition, so I commend the FBI for listening and hope they truly do make this a priority and get the definition changed.