FBI to expand definition of rape

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Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

For the past 82 years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation — in its reporting of national crime statistics — has not recognized that men can be raped, that women can be raped by other women, that men and women can be raped with objects or that men and women can be raped while they are unconscious. Moreover, the FBI has not recognized all rape, only “forcible rape.”

But after protest from women’s groups this year, the FBI this week announced it would expand its definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).

The new definition of rape — no longer “forcible” — resembles that of sexual assault, defining the crime as “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.”

The old “forcible rape” definition read simply: “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” This previous definition included the note: “Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.”

The FBI has said it will continue to collect data on “forcible rape,” but only for research and comparison.

How the FBI defines rape made headlines this year, because the term “forcible rape” appeared in Republican Rep. Chris Smith’s “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” early this year. The bill stipulated only women who were victims of “forcible rape” (and incest and to save the life of the mother) could use Medicaid to pay for an abortion. After public outcry, the language was changed from “forcible rape” to “rape.”

Soon after, Ms. Magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation launched the “Rape is Rape,” campaign in conjunction with Change.org. In the form of a petition, the organizations called on the FBI to count all rapes in the UCR. Nearly 140,000 emails were sent to the FBI and the Department of Justice, according to Ms. Magazine.

The definition change could impact how cities are rated in terms of safety. Every year, the FBI releases its Uniform Crime Reports, which rank major U.S. cities based on violent crimes, which consist of murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

The Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) voted unanimously on Tuesday broaden its rape definition. Next, the International Association of Chiefs of Police will review the new definition and make final recommendation to the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB) at their December 6-7, 2011, meeting to be held in Albuquerque, N.M. A final definition will be recommended to FBI Director Robert Mueller. A new definition will likely not be decided before 2012.

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