After Years of Criticism, FBI Broadens Definition of Rape
Following more than a decade of activism, the FBI changed its definition of rape last week to include non-forcible assault and assault committed against men.
FBI Director Robert Mueller announced last month in a Senate hearing that the FBI would be updating its criteria following a decade-long push by advocates and feminist groups. Ms. Magazine’s Rape is Rape campaign, launched eight months ago, added new energy to the push for revision; the campaign followed a 2011 attempt by some members of Congress to exclude non-“forcible rape” from Medicaid funding.
As Ms. Magazine reported, the attempted redefinition echoed the FBI’s previous criteria, in place since 1929, which only included “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
For years, advocates have pointed out that defining rape as a crime that solely involves substantive physical force ignores rapes committed with the aid of drugs or alcohol (which plays a role in the majority of college assaults), rapes committed through coercion, or rapes committed against sleeping victims.
The FBI’s definition of rape sets the criteria for inclusion in the bureau’s Uniform Crime Report, which provides some of the most authoritative statistics on U.S. crimes. Proponents of the changes said they hope that the new definition will cause the statistics to more precisely reflect the American reality—and prompt greater funding toward anti-sexual-violence campaigns.
“If you can't measure it accurately, you can't monitor it and you can't direct appropriate resources to deal with the problem,” Women’s Law Project Director Carol Tracy told USA Today. The Women’s Law Project is part of a coalition of more than 90 organizations that has been advancing such a change for years.
The definition still only includes unwanted penetration; in a CDC survey of sexual violence released last month, nearly 5 percent of men reported that they had been made to penetrate someone else—a form of sexual assault that the FBI still doesn’t include in rape statistics and reports.
But, as senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a press briefing, it is a “very, very important step” that brings the FBI’s definition closer to reality.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.