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The national understanding of rape, as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s data collection program, now includes what Vice President Joseph Biden called a “long-awaited change to the definition of rape” that will include men who are raped, victims who are too drunk to consent, oral penetration without consent and other changes that will make the definition more expansive.
Until today, the Uniform Crime Report definition of rape — the FBI’s standard used for most national criminal justice programs — was limited to the traditional definition of rape “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”
In a conference call with reporters today, White House Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett said that data collected based on that definition “does not present an accurate picture of rape in this country. Without an accurate understanding of the magnitude of the problem, how can we effectively solve the problem?”
The new definition — “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” — will allow for a more accurate count, although administration officials were unwilling to speculate on the level of numerical change that would result from the change.
According to Department of Justice Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Susan B. Carbon, “It encompasses a far greater range of victims and of circumstances of what we know as rape.”
In addition to including men who are raped, Carbon said today, “Because many rapes are facilitated as we know by drugs or alcohol, the new definition recognizes that a victim can be incapacitated and thus unable to consent because of his or her ingestion of drugs or alcohol.”
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz told Metro Weekly, “This change will result in more comprehensive and accurate reporting of sexual assaults and will give law enforcement and the public a better understanding of how these crimes impact individuals across lines of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.”
The change, formally approved by FBI Director Robert Mueller on Dec. 21, 2011, was raised by Biden at a cabinet meeting in July 2011, according to White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal. The definition is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes.
“The data are used to measure crime,” Carbon noted, “and it’s the only national crime collection system that we have in the country that really gives us this comprehensive understanding.”
Most local law enforcement agencies, according to Rosenthal, already use some sort of expanded definition of rape and were supportive of today’s change. Today’s change does not impact the definition of rape under state law, but rather the types of rape that will be reported to the UCR.
Carbon discussed the financial impact of today’s announcement, saying, “UCR data also inform important decisions about resource allocation across the country. For example, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant formula program uses UCR data to allocate federal funds to state and local governments. Inaccurate reporting of rapes meant that policymakers could not make truly informed decisions about how to utilize funding.”
David Cuthbertson, the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said that the full implementation of today’s change will take a while to be realized.
“As the record systems are changed, it will take several years before the full impact of the definition change will be seen in the statistics,” he said. “I think you will see the increase in reporting begin rather quickly if those systems are changed quickly, and over a period of several years, you will see the statistics gain until it reaches a level that we believe all the data is being collected.”
Of the larger impact of today’s announcement, Rosenthal said, “It is about more than a definition. How we talk about rape and how we count it makes a difference in how we view it.”
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