FBI Will Update Its Definition of Rape

FBI Director Robert Mueller has announced that the agency will update its definition of rape, taking effect in the spring of 2012. The FBI currently defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” As we have noted before, experts consider this definition to be too narrow, and it leads to the under-reporting of thousands of sexual assaults across the U.S. each year.

An FBI advisory board voted on December 6 to expand the definition of rape and sent the final decision on to Director Mueller. While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller explained his support for updating the definition:

“That definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable—fully applicable—to the types of crimes that it should cover.”

The new definition states that rape is “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 updating its terminology, the FBI removed the requirement that a rape involve force and expanded its reach beyond only female victims.

The updated definition of rape will allow local law enforcement agencies to report more sexual assaults to the federal government. In turn, the Uniform Crime Report, the FBI’s annual report on crime statistics, will give a more accurate picture of sexual violence that is reported throughout the country.

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