Government Policy

FBI Director Approves Rape Definition Change

On the opposite spectrum of yesterdays post about the invasive ultrasound law in Texas, we have to great news to talk about today. We have discussed previously that the Women’s Law Project, Ms. Magazine and The Feminist Majority foundation have been spearheading a campaign to get the FBI to change the definition of rape for use in the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR). This report is the primary source that law and policy makers have for determining what kind and amount of funding/support should go to organizations that help victims of rape.

Until this decision the definition of rape was the “carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.” This severely limited the number of rapes reported to the UCR because it doesn’t include victims who were drugged, victims who were underage or men as victims. While most law enforcement agencies had reports of these rapes, they were not passed on the UCR as rapes because they didn’t meet the definition. For example Chicago didn’t report any rapes for the year 2010 because the reported rapes didn’t match the UCR definition.

The new definition is much broader; it states that rape is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This definition includes men as victims, underage victims and victims who were drugged.

As of January 6th 2012, FBI Director Robert Mueller has approved the new definition and it will officially go into effect. This change will have a lot of numerical implications. Since so many law enforcement agencies were getting reports of rape but were unable to give them to the UCR, the official numbers of reported rapes in many areas is going to rise. While many may see this rise in numbers as alarming it is important to remember that the actual rates have not changed, only the way the crimes are reported has. This is a good thing because it means that policy and lawmakers will be better able to judge the needs of victim support groups such as RAINN and ensure they get the funding they need.

This is especially relevant now because although victim support groups have long recognized that the number of rapes that are reported are only a fraction of the actual rapes committed, governmental officials have finally conducted research to corroborate it. Unfortunately, since it is only reported rapes that go into the UCR, rape will still be an underrepresented crime; but with a more accurate way to define rape as well as raised awareness of the prevalence of unreported rape there is room to hope that rape prevention and education can become a more important policy issue.


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