On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s (UCR) definition of rape, which will lead to a more comprehensive statistical reporting of rape nationwide. In December, F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III told Congress that he has approved the updated definition for the way in which the agency defines rape.
“That [former] definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable–fully applicable to the types of crimes that…it should cover,” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In early December, an F.B.I. advisory board voted to update the way the agency defines rape. The new terminology says rape is “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.”
In October, an F.B.I. subcommittee made recommendations to create a new federal definition of rape, moving the agency a step closer to updating the way it counts sex crimes for the first time since 1927. Currently, the F.B.I. considers rape to be “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” which excludes anal and oral rape, male rape and rape committed without physical force but also without consent.
This underreporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape. Additionally, federal, state and local agencies use the F.B.I.’s UCR statistics to apply for funding. Law enforcement agencies have to determine what counts as rape based on the FBI definition, which ends up affecting the resources allocated for services rape crisis centers are able to offer their community. This makes the F.B.I.’s definition of rape more essential than mere statistics.
“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice, to the New York Times. “It’s the message that we’re sending to victims, and if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”
According to the F.B.I.’s 2010 UCR, there were 84,767 sexual assaults in the United States last year. If the F.B.I. adopts a broader definition, law enforcement agencies will be explaining a sudden increase in reported rapes.
Click here to read a blog post from Director Carbon on the importance of the new definition of rape to our nation’s law enforcement, and for survivors of rape and their advocates. Click here to listen to the F.B.I.’s podcast.