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FBI to update 80-year-old, women-only rape definition

By Kase Wickman
Thursday, September 29, 2011 16:10 EDT
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation currently defines rape the same way it has for the last 80 years: “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” After continued activist pressure, the FBI is considering rewriting that definition to better reflect that actual number of sexual assaults that occur every day, the New York Times reported.

An FBI subcommittee will talk about the issue at a subcommittee meeting on October 18, according to Greg Scarbro. Scarbro is in charge of the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report, which tracks, among other statistics, reported sexual assaults. According to the 2010 report, released last week, there were 84,767 sexual assaults in the U.S., a 5 percent drop from the 2009 report.

Activists said that the definition of rape led to a misleading message to those who rely on the numbers from the report.

“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” Susan B. Carbon, director of the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, told the 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.”

For example, of the more than 1,300 sexual assaults reported to the New York Police Department, more than 300 went unentered into the federal report because they did not fit the FBI definition.

The process for change will only begin at the planned October meeting, and it may be some time before a new definition is approved and enacted.

“Our goal will be to leave that meeting with a definition and a mechanism,” Scrabro said.

Once the definition is revised, an aggressive public relations and education campaign will have to launch, in order to explain the apparent rise in sexual violence with the broader definition.

“You can’t ignore the politics of crime,” Charles M. Ramsey, a Philadelphia police officer and head of a police research forum, told the Times. “With the new definition, it’s going to dramatically change the numbers.”

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
 
 
 
 
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