FBI to Change Rape Definition; “Dramatic” Numbers Likely

The FBI says an archaic definition of rape will be changed, a shift that a key police chief says will “dramatically change the numbers,” the New York Times reports. Thousands of sexual assaults in the U.S. each year are not reflected in the FBI’s yearly crime report that uses a definition of rape that is far narrower than the definitions used by most police departments, says the New York Times. Law enforcement officials and advocates for women say this underreporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape and results in fewer resources devoted to catching rapists and helping victims. The public has the right to know about the prevalence of crime and violent crime in our communities, and we know that data drives practices, resources, policies and programs,” said Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, which has campaigned to get the FBI to change its definition of sexual assault. She spoke at a meeting organized by the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2010 said there were 84,767 sexual assaults reported to law enforcement, a 5 percent drop from 2009. A PERF survey found almost 80 percent of police departments agreeing that the federal definition of rape used by the Uniform Crime Report was inadequate and should be changed. The FBI’s Greg Scarbro agreed that the definition should be revised and that an FBI subcommittee would take up the issue at a meeting on Oct. 18. “With the new definition, it's going to dramatically change the numbers,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, PERF president.

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