In a meeting earlier this month, the FBI took a major stride toward broadening its archaic definition of rape, a small victory for many who have campaigned for months to make this change. The Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee, an FBI advisory group, voted unanimously to change the 82-year-old federal definition of rape, which is currently defined as, “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”
The new definition, if passed, 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.” This definition, unlike the current one, would include victims of statutory rape, male rape, rape with an object and forced anal or oral sex.
This is a great step in the campaign to demand that all rapes are counted, but the fight isn’t over yet. The change still has to be approved by another advisory board and finally by FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The FBI passing a more inclusive definition of rape is crucial to the empowerment of rape survivors to seek justice, as well as to the accurate and effective tracking and eradication of sex crimes. Federal funding that goes toward fighting rape is dependent on the prevalence of rape as it is defined on a national level. Without an accurate definition of rape, law enforcement officials do not get accurate rape statistics, and therefore do not get sufficient funding to fight these crimes. Changing the definition of rape could drastically improve law enforcement’s ability to reduce the incidence of this act.
One of the most problematic parts of the current definition is the use of the word “forcible.” Using the word “forcible” in any definition of rape is inaccurate and harmful — all rape is forcible in some way. Implying that some rape is not “forcible” demeans the experiences of countless survivors and discourages many survivors from pursuing justice. Using this language makes it easier for police not to count the rapes of women who were unconscious or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is especially problematic given the fact that, according to Ms. Magazine, up to 77 percent of rapes involve those substances. This language is dangerous to college students like us, as drug and alcohol use is more prevalent on a college campus.
Luckily, Missouri’s definition of rape is not as narrow as the federal definition: it includes date rape and other types of coercion. If a broader definition were passed on a national level, other states may feel the pressure to similarly modernize their laws and make sure more victims’ experiences are counted.
According to the Missouri Law Enforcement Agency Uniform Crime Reports, 1,432 forcible rapes were recorded in Missouri in 2010. Coming at the end of Relationship Violence Awareness Month, the FBI’s change couldn’t be more relevant. Make sure that all survivors’ stories are validated and all rapes are counted. Sign the change.org petition and tell the FBI that rape is rape.