Late yesterday afternoon the FBI Criminal Justice Advisory Board voted unanimously to update the archaic definition of rape in the FBI Uniform Crime Report. "It's a great victory," said Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation. "This new definition will mean that, at long last, we will begin to see the full scope of this horrific violence, and that understanding will carry through to increased attention and resources for prevention and action."
Following a grassroots feminist activism campaign, Senate hearings, and many meetings with various levels of the FBI, as well as over 160,000 emails to the Department of Justice and FBI, the FBI's Criminal Justice Advisory Policy Board unanimously voted in Albuquerque, NM to recommend that the FBI update its 82-year-old definition of "forcible rape" in the Uniform Crime Report. The recommendation will go to FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is expected to adopt the proposal.
The "Rape is Rape" campaign, launched by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, went viral on the petition website Change.org, generating tens of thousands emails to the FBI and the Department of Justice urging this change. The update to the definition comes after years of urging by feminist organizations, spearheaded for more than a decade by the Pennsylvania-based Women's Law Project. "Ultimately, accurate data is a fundamental starting point to improving police response to sex crimes and improved practice should led to increased victim confidence in police and reporting," said Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director of the Women's Law Project.
The current definition, adopted 82 years ago, has been extensively criticized for leading to widespread underreporting of rape. Defined as "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will," it excludes rapes involving forced anal sex and/or oral sex, vaginal or anal fisting, rape with an object (even if serious injuries result), rapes of men, and was interpreted by some to exclude rapes where the victim was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or otherwise unable to give consent.
Today's unanimous vote recommends a new, more inclusive definition of rape in the UCR: "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."
The Obama Administration, led by Vice President Joe Biden, who has long been a leader in the fight to end violence against women, actively supported the change. Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, pursued it vigorously, as did Hon. Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice, who also sought this historic change and participated in every hearing to advocate for a new definition.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation Press Statement 12/7/11; Huffington Post 12/6/11