December 16, 2011 — FBI will change its definition of rape to more accurately reflect the number and nature of crimes reported by local police departments, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, ABC News reports. The agency now will define rape as "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."
FBI's current definition -- "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will" -- was written more than 80 years ago and remains the standard for the agency's annual Uniform Crime Report, which is widely cited as an indicator of national crime trends (Ryan, ABC News, 12/14). Rape crisis centers and other groups rely on the statistics when applying for private and public funding.
Critics argued that the old definition did not account for cases that involve anal or oral penetration, penetration with an object, cases where the victim was drugged or under the influence of alcohol, or cases where the victim was male (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/29).
The old definition "was in some ways unworkable, [and] certainly not ... fully applicable to the types of crimes that it should cover," Mueller said. He said he expects the new definition to take effect "some time this spring."
Women's advocates commended FBI for broadening the definition. "Data drives resources, and the (UCR) data is used to allocate federal funds," said Carol Tracy, director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project. She added, "Now that we will have accurate data, we need resources appropriately allocated to fight this hideous crime" (Kilar/Fenton, Baltimore Sun, 12/15).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
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Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership