FBI Updates Definition of Rape

In the wake of a fierce and sustained campaign by feminist groups, the FBI is incrementally moving toward an updated definition of rape. The old one, written in 1929, leaves out a lot of what most of us consider to be rape. Here's how Erica Goode in The New York Times wrote up the controversy: 

The definition of rape used by the F.B.I. — “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — was written more than 80 years ago. The yearly report on violent crime, which uses data provided voluntarily by the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies, is widely cited as an indicator of national crime trends.

But that definition, critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting.

This week, an FBI subcommittee recommended that the definition be updated to include all the bodily invasions that most of us think of when we think of rape. 

But just changing the FBI definition isn't enough to reach the real goal of stopping (or at least seriously reducing) violence against women, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation, one of the key movers behind the update campaign. Local police chiefs need to begin collecting more accurate data, rape kits need to be tested more quickly, and rapists need to be put behind bars. According to Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women's Law Project, research shows that 90 to 95 percent of rapes are committed by serial predators. In other words, all men aren't rapists. The few who are need to be taken off the streets. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey, there were an estimated 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults in 2010. That's a drop from previous years, but is probably seriously undercounting the problem. The point of updating the definition is to ensure that the statistics show how big the problem is--and enough resources go toward that stopping it. 

As I wrote earlier this week, progressives tend to have mixed feelings about criminal justice institutions, and so they rarely pay attention to how desperately underfunded local law enforcement and prosecutors' offices are. Their work is paid as public interest law; they don't earn as much as, say, law professors. But law enforcement—when done right—is what keeps the creeps off the streets.