The FBI is one step closer to updating the 81-year-old, hopelessly narrow definition of rape it uses to tally sexual assaults in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).
The current definition, which I’ve cited in this space multiple times and will continue to do so because it’s just so ridiculous, is, “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Further, in its FAQs, the FBI has helpfully clarified that, “By definition, sexual attacks on males are excluded from the rape category and must be classified as assaults or other sex offenses depending on the nature of the crime and the extent of injury.”
On Tuesday, a key subcommittee of the agency’s Advisory Policy Board (APB) agreed to this working definition:
“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.”
If the entire APB votes yes to this more accurate language when it meets in early December, and FBI director Robert Mueller makes it official, the Uniform Crime Report may reflect what rape actually is—sexual violence without consent, including violence inflicted on victims who are intoxicated, not female and not wearing a habit, a Victorian gown with a bustle or a chastity belt.
Anti-rape activists have been campaigning for a redefinition intensely since February, when Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) floated the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” bill that would have denied women who hadn’t been raped “forcibly” to pay for their abortions out of pocket. Smith’s zealotry drew attention to the FBI’s backwardness, which advocates say resulted in vast federal underreporting of this crime.
Because of the skin I’m in, I’m always wary of how law enforcement might use statistical increases to justify and further expand the prison industrial complex. But I count this more accurate definition of rape as a victory because crime stats—and resources—ought to reflect what really goes on. You can’t call a community safe while there’s, say, a warehouse full of rape kits going untested because the county says it’s too broke to run the damn DNA evidence. Of course it will take more than a Uniform Crime Report redefinition to change how law enforcement regards rape victims and underestimates the seriousness of this violence. Indeed, it’s a baby step, but one in the right direction.
For more information about rape kits going untested and the possible effects of the narrow definition, watch this video from the Feminist Majority Foundation.