In a change that affects records and reporting rather than arrests/charges/convictions (where legislative reforms regarding definitions of rape and sexual assault have mostly already been modernised for quite a while) the FBI plans to redefine rape for the purposes of its statistical compilation known as the Uniform Crime Report. Caperton at Feministe nails the problems with the existing (1927) definition in terms of what cases of sexual assault it doesn’t count:
[defined as] “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Obviously, this is problematic on a number of levels–basically, every word except for “the” and “of.”
1. the carnal knowledge – excluding any assault with fingers or foreign objects, on any orifice but the vagina
2. of a female – excluding anyone not a cis female [...]
3. forcibly – excluding any assault involving drugs or coercion
4. and against her will – excluding statutory rape
i.e. that definition excludes victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, rape via incapacitation or intimidation, statutory rape and male rape.
The proposed new definition is:
Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration of a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.
So now male rape victims and rape-by-object victims will finally be included in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), as will non-forcible rapes using drugs/threats etc, rapes of unconscious or incapacitated people or rape of those with physical or mental disabilities who are unable to forcefully resist, and also statutory rapes.
This will have a knock-on effect regarding discussions of rape online because the current FBI figures in the UCR obviously drastically undercount the number of rapes that actually occur, and both this low number and the limited definition of “what counts as rape” are often used as rhetorical ammunition by the Rape Isn’t That Big A Problem crowd.
Congratulations to all the activists over many decades who have pushed for legislative and reporting changes to more accurately reflect the reality of rape. It’s just one step closer to a world where sexual violence truly is treated the same as other crimes by law enforcement and the justice system.