Holder Makes It Official: New FBI Rape Definition Approved


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced revisions to the Uniform Crime Report's definition of rape, which the Justice Department says will lead to a more comprehensive statistical reporting of rape nationwide.

Holder said the new definition is more inclusive, better reflects state criminal codes, and focuses on the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape. The revision had been urged by women’s advocacy groups and was approved by an FBI advisory committee. FBI Director Robert Mueller approved the new official definition on Dec. 21, 2011.

The Justice Department held a conference call announcing the official change. Participants included: Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President; Lynn Rosenthal,White House Advisor on Violence Against Women; Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women; and David Cuthbertson, FBI Assistant Director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Jarrett commended the definition as a more inclusive way to get a better understanding of rape in the country and said: “Definitions matter because people matter.”

The change has been almost a decade in the making, as The Crime Report previously reported, with a series of advisory and listening meetings on a new definition.

The old definition, which was proposed in 1927 and signed into law in 1929, defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

The new definition is: “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.” This new definition now includes men and boys to provide a fuller picture of rape in America.

A recent Centers for Disease Control Study reported that as many as 1 in 3 women have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, and about 1 in 10 men.

In 2010, the FBI reported 84,767 rapes. The complete numbers for 2011 Uniform Crime Report have not yet been reported, but the FBI issued a preliminary report showing a 6.4 decrease in violent crimes during the first six months of 2011.

In addition to forcible rape, violent crimes reported by the UCR also include murder, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Experts expect the numbers of reported rape to increase over the next few years once the new tools are fully implemented.

“Rape is a devastating crime and we can't solve it unless we know the full extent of it,” said Vice President Joe Biden, a leader in the effort to end violence against women 20 years and prime author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

“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.”

Cara Tabachnick is managing editor of The Crime Report. Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and a contributing editor of The Crime Report. They welcome readers’ comments.

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