Today the White House announced that FBI Director Robert Mueller has approved the change recommended by several committees of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service. The new definition, as it appears on the FBI website, is: “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.”
“Updating the FBI Uniform Crime Report definition of rape is a big win for women,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation. “We appreciate the support for this change from the Obama Administration, led by Vice President Joe Biden and by Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and Hon. Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice, as well the FBI.”
“With a modern, broader definition, FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics will finally show the true breadth of this violence that affects so many women’s lives. Women’s groups will work to ensure that this more accurate and complete data will lead to increased resources to combat and reduce the incidence of rape,” continued Smeal.
The “Rape is Rape” campaign, a grassroots feminist activism effort launched by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, generated over 160,000 emails to the FBI and the Department of Justice urging this change. For over a decade the Pennsylvania-based Women’s Law Project (WLP) had pursued the change. “Ultimately, accurate data is a fundamental starting point to improving police response to sex crimes and improved practice should lead to increased victim confidence in police and reporting,” said Carol E. Tracy, WLP Executive Director.
The old definition, adopted over 80 years ago, had been extensively criticized for leading to widespread underreporting of rape. Defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” it excluded rapes involving forced anal sex and/or oral sex, rape with an object (even if serious injuries resulted) and rapes of men, and was interpreted by many police jurisdictions to exclude rapes where the victim was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or otherwise unable to give consent. The old rape definition excluded many rapes against women and all against men.
“This is a major policy change and will dramatically impact the way rape is tracked and reported nationwide,” said Kim Gandy, Vice President and General Counsel of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “It is a great day for women and law enforcement because the police can more accurately know what is going on as far as the crime of rape in their communities,” observed Margaret Moore, Director of the National Center for Women and Policing of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Feminist Majority Foundation 1/6/12; USA Today 1/6/12