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New Definition of Rape Catches Up to Realities of Sexual Violence

Original 1927 Definition Updated to Include All Types, Both Genders

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Updated January 17, 2012
A badly outmoded definition of rape -- virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1927 -- was finally put to rest on January 6, 2012, when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government had adopted a more comprehensive definition. The new and broader definition of rape -- now part of the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) used by the Dept. of Justice and the FBI -- will lead to better and more comprehensive reporting of the crime.

Advocacy groups for victims of sexual violence along with local law enforcement agencies have long understood that state rape statutes far exceed the narrow definition of rape used at the federal level. Previously, many crimes involving sexual violence could not be reported to the federal government as "rape" because the existing definition only recognized forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina. This excluded all other forms of sexual violence including oral and anal penetration, rape of males, rapes involving female perpetrators, and penetration using other body parts and/or objects. Over the years this under-reporting has led to misunderstanding of the prevalence of the crime and its impact on a wide variety of victims of all ages, backgrounds and genders.

Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime advocate for victims of gender-based violence who authored the Violence Against Women Act, echoed this theme in his remarks: "“Rape is a devastating crime and we can’t solve it unless we know the full extent of it....This long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years.”    Another major player in the call for change was the FBI. The adoption of the revised definition of rape within the Summary Reporting System of the UCR was recommended by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Board and approved by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. According to David Cuthbertson, FBI Assistant Director, CJIS Division, " This change will give law enforcement the ability to report more complete rape offense data, as the new definition reflects the vast majority of state rape statutes....[T]he FBI is confident that the number of victims of this heinous crime will be more accurately reflected in national crime statistics."  

Statistical reports on national crime rates are compiled from data provided by nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the US. The UCR ensures that such data is consistent from state to state, and results in reliable, uniform crime statistics for the nation. A change in the definition of rape will more accurately reflect the true occurrence of rape, sexual assault, and other sexual crimes in the U.S. and account for those thousands of rape survivors whose abuse and victimization have been brushed aside until now.

Sources:
"Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s Definition of Rape." U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. 6 January 2012.
"Uniform Crime Reports." U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, Criminal Justice Information Services. Retrieved 10 January 2012.

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