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Rape More Common Than Smoking in United States- F.B.I. Revises Definition of Rape to Include Men

Rape More Common Than Smoking in United States- F.B.I. Revises Definition of Rape to Include Men

Sexual violence is an omnipresent public health problem in the United States. In December 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Throughout the country, headlines of local and national papers described that rape is more common than ever thought.

In an article published in on Significance Magazine’s web site, a publication of the American Statistical Association and Royal Statistical Society, compared these rates to those of smoking: 18.3% of women over 18 reported being sexual assaulted in their lifeline while 17.4% of women reported smoking.

Just as in smoking prevention, preventing sexual violence before it happens in is crucial. NISVS demonstrated that sexual violence often first happens when people are young, thus early prevention efforts are vital*.

In a step toward progress that have sexual violence advocate’s cheering, Attorney General Eric Holder announced revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s (UCR) definition of rape, which will lead to a more comprehensive statistical reporting of rape nationwide. In December, F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III told Congress that he has approved the updated definition for the way in which the agency defines rape.

“That [former] definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable–fully applicable to the types of crimes that…it should cover,” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In early December, an F.B.I. advisory board voted to update the way the agency defines rape. The new terminology defines rape as “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.”

In October, an F.B.I. subcommittee made recommendations to create a new federal definition of rape. The F.B.I. had considered rape to be “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” which excludes anal and oral rape, male rape and rape committed without physical force but also without consent. A person consents if s/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If the complainant was incapacitated (i.e. intoxicated or under medication or drugs), and the respondent knew, or should have reasonably have known of the incapacity, indications of consent are irrelevant. Another important change made is the removal of the word “forcibly” from the F.B.I.’s definition, which was put in place in 1927.

This underreporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape. Additionally, federal, state and local agencies use the F.B.I.’s UCR statistics to apply for funding. Law enforcement agencies have to determine what counts as rape based on the FBI definition, which ends up affecting the resources allocated for services rape crisis centers are able to offer their community. This makes the F.B.I.’s definition of rape more essential than mere statistics.

“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice, to the New York Times. “It’s the message that we’re sending to victims, and if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”

According to the F.B.I.’s 2010 UCR, there were 84,767 sexual assaults in the United States last year. F.B.I.’s change to a broader definition, law enforcement agencies will be explaining a sudden increase in reported rapes. District attorneys will now have clearer avenues to prosecute those accused with forcing anal sex and/or oral sex upon another person or rape with an object. Additionally, more victims will be eligible for aid.

*Information gathered California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and used with permission. For more information, please visit

For further resources and referrals, please contact AVA-CASA.

This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.

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