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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

September-14-10

American Women Must Not Be Fooled: Smeal Calls for National Reform in Rape Reporting and Investigating

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, testified today before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs at its hearing "Rape in the United States: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases" and will call for national reform in the reporting and investigating of rape crimes. Moreover, Smeal advocated the adoption of new federal policies to encourage the recruitment of law enforcement personnel with specialized education and skills in dealing with sexual assault and the recruitment and retention of more women in law enforcement.

"Yesterday, the federal government once again released a report citing a decrease in the incidence of rape. But American women should not be fooled," explained Smeal. "The narrow and out-dated definition of rape ("the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will") in the Uniform Crime Report, first adopted in 1927, results in a significant undercounting of the actual number of rapes that are reported."

"The upshot of this narrow, archaic definition," continued Smeal, "is that many rapes are excluded from the Uniform Crime Report statistics - including forced anal sex and/or oral sex, vaginal or anal fisting, rape with an object (even if serious injuries result), and other injurious and degrading sexual assaults that would be considered rape by any rational adult." It also excludes statutory rape and omits rape by men against men and any rape by a woman. Moreover, this out-dated definition of rape excludes the use of drugs or alcohol to subdue a victim, a common tactic used today.

The National Crime Victimization Survey of the Bureau of Justice Statistics also significantly underreports rape. Although the NCVS definition is somewhat broader, it excludes rapes committed against victims under the age of 12, which some experts believe to be about 25% of all rapes.

To compound the problem, local police undercounting of rape and sexual assault cases appears to be significant and widespread. Local rape crisis centers report huge disparities between the number of sexual assaults requiring a rape kit or medical forensic exam and the number of rapes reported to the Uniform Crime Report by the local police or sheriff's office.

"This under-reporting is not just a numbers game," concludes Smeal, "but threatens the safety and lives of millions of women. Without adequate reports, we cannot know the magnitude of the problem and therefore cannot adequately address it."

Other leaders testifying at the hearing were Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office of Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice; Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director of the Women's Law Project of Philadelphia; and Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, Philadelphia Police Department and former chief of police of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department.

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