US government expands definition of rape to include men

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Friday, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) expanded its long-standing definition of rape to include men, and the rape of any gender by lack of consent — as opposed to physical coercion. The revised definition should ensure all rapes are recorded in crime statistics. Valerie Jarrett, a White House adviser, said it was a "very, very important step."

The new definition defines rape as: "The 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."

Describing the changes to crime reporting as "long overdue", United States Attorney General Eric Holder said the revised definition of rape will, "help ensure justice for those whose lives have been devastated by sexual violence and reflect the Department of Justice's commitment to standing with rape victims".

The prior definition of rape — "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will" — was set by the FBI in 1927. In contrast, the revised definition drops the requirement that there be physical resistance, thus including crimes where the victim is unable to give consent because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or due to their age.

The changes are primarily a revision to the Uniform Crime Reports system (UCR), and are not expected to impact prior cases or current prosecutions. Introducing no changes to current State or Federal law, the FBI expects the revised definition of rape will see victim numbers "more accurately reflected in national crime statistics".

Close to the revised rape definition is a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which included male rape and non-consensual sex; their figures indicate that, at some point in their lives, about 20% of women and 1.5% of men in the United States have been raped. Writing for Significance magazine, Stephanie Kovalchik says this report shows the US "is experiencing an epidemic of sexual violence." Comparing with other CDC reports, she highlights "that [the] number of American women who have been raped is greater than the number who are current smokers."

Vice President Joe Biden, with a history of advocating improved rape legislation, described the changes as "a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years." Whilst still in the Senate, Biden led efforts to implement legislative change — including authoring the Violence Against Women Act.