FBI changes definition of rape after 85 years

The FBI’s decision last week to revise the definition of rape for its annual Uniform Crime Reporting Program is being praised by sexual assault advocates and the LGBT community.

The old definition limited reports to female victims of “forcible” rape — leaving out male victims and victims assaulted while incapacitated by drugs, alcohol or other means.

Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. 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.

This definition has been in use since 1927.

According a statement released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, the new definition reads:

“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.”

According to the DOJ, the FBI will use this new rape definition — as it used the old one — to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes.

The result of the old definition, advocates and experts say, resulted in a significant underreporting of sexual assaults in the U.S.

“The FBI’s decision is tremendously significant and an important step in acknowledging all victims of sexual violence,” said Lauren Allswede, a counselor for the Michigan State University Sexual Assault Program. “Rape is the most underreported crime in general, but men specifically often hesitate to come forward for fear their identity or masculinity will be questioned. Raising public awareness about sexual violence dynamics, including accurate information about who is victimized, is critical. Everyone is impacted by sexual violence and anyone can be a victim of sexual violence. With a more inclusive definition, we hope that male victims feel validated and that community members and service providers better respond to a previously silenced and underserved population.”

Allswede is not alone. Nusrat Ventimiglia, director of victim services for Equality Michigan, said the new definition is important for the LGBT community. Equality Michigan, aside from providing political advocacy on gay issues, runs a program to track violence against the LGBT community. Not only does the group offer assistance for victims in navigating the criminal justice system but it also reports incidents to the FBI annually.

“The expansion of the federal definition of rape to finally count the sexual assault of males, as well as updating the problematic ‘force’ requirement is a long overdue, but welcome, change. The updated definition not only includes sexual assaults against males as ‘rape,’ but also counts as ‘rape’ penetrative assaults without consent (including non-consent by reason of incapacity), removing the requirement of ‘force,’” Ventimiglia said in an email statement to The American Independent. “We at Equality Michigan have counted a number of sexual assaults of males and provided support to these survivors in addition to other survivors who would not have been counted under the now obsolete definition of rape. Now the stories of these survivors will finally be counted among federal crime statistics. We hope that this will lead to more inclusive policies to fully address the problem of sexual violence.”

Katherine Redmond, executive director of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, which monitors sexual violence committed by or against athletes in the U.S., also praised the decision to change the decision in a Facebook chat with TAI.

Photo: Components of a Texas sexual assault evidence kit (source: taasa.org)