Legal Momentum Commends The FBI For Adopting New, Inclusive Definition Of Rape

Legal Momentum Commends The FBI For Adopting New, Inclusive Definition Of Rape

Date: 
January 31, 2012

January 31, 2012 - Legal Momentum commends the FBI for responding to a ten-year campaign by women’s rights organizations to adopt a new definition of rape for the Unified Crime Report (UCR)-- the first revision to the definition in 83 years. The revised definition of rape 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 revised definition will be used by the FBI and other federal agencies going forward to collect, report and analyze more accurate statistics on the prevalence and nature of sexual violence perpetrated against women and men across the U.S.

Under the FBI’s previous definition of rape – "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will" – the prevalence of rapes was dramatically under reported. Men could not be victims, forced oral or anal sex and forced penetration with an object did not count, and drug-facilitated rape was not “rape”. A system that does not define a problem accurately is surely not equipped to address it effectively.

The revision is a significant achievement for the women’s movement and the fight to eradicate sexual violence in the U.S. Ten years ago, the Women’s Law Project initiated the campaign to revise the UCR definition of rape. Legal Momentum has steadily supported and propelled this campaign from the outset.

Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) has long advocated that federal government agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), revise their methodologies for collecting data about rape. As NJEP wrote in a 2010 Sexual Assault Report article about recent BJS reports, the Bureau’s flawed methodology "sharply underestimate(s) the number of rape victims among persons with disabilities and women in the general population."

Lynn Hecht Schafran, Legal Momentum’s Senior Vice President and Director of NJEP, states: “Accurate data are essential to all aspects of addressing rape and sexual assault: prevention, victim services, concerns of underserved populations, media reporting, public education and the justice system’s response. This revision of the FBI definition of rape is a critical step forward.”

Vice President Biden, who spearheaded the original Violence Against Women Act and has long-been a proponent for ending violence against women, has publicly applauded the FBI’s new definition, stating: “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.”

In another positive step forward, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially released its 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) which presents a much more accurate picture of the rampant prevalence of sexual violence in the U.S. The study’s findings (which most likely still understate the ubiquity of rape) should alarm anyone who reads them. For instance: nearly 1 in 5 women has been raped at some time in her life; almost 70 percent of female victims were subjected to some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before the age of 25; and almost 53 percent of male victims were subjected to some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before age of 25.

Legal Momentum is hopeful that the new FBI definition of rape, and the dissemination of the CDC study, will enhance the public’s awareness of sexual violence, improve the systemic response to victims, and result in more offenders being held accountable.

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