Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the FBI is changing the definition of rape used by local enforcement to tabulate national sexual-violence statistics.
The outdated definition that has been governing national rape statistics since 1929, “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” has been updated to "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.” According to Susan D. Carbon, director of the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the previous definition “excluded an untold number of victims.” For the first time, men will be included in national rape statistics, as well as those raped while unable to give consent due to intoxication or other mental and physical incapacity.
“Rape is rape is rape,” said Carbon in a conference call this morning. “It’s rape if you’re a man; it’s rape if it was with another object; it’s rape if you were too drunk to consent.”
Although many local and state law-enforcement agencies were already using more modern definitions, they would nonetheless send far less comprehensive data to national agencies because of the narrow definition. One in five women and one in 71 men are raped during their lifetime, as Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett noted in the conference call, but those numbers aren't currently reflected in Justice Department crime statistics.
“This is about more than a definition. It is about how seriously we take this as a country,” said Lynn Rosenthal, White House adviser on violence against women, on the conference call. Now, national statistics will paint a far more accurate picture of sexual crime in the United States, although it will probably take a few years before the changes are reflected in the data.