After a decades-long campaign by women’s rights advocates, the FBI recently announced that it would revise the definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Written more than 80 years ago, the current definition is problematic for several reasons.

The only type of sexual assault on which the UCR currently collects data is “forcible rape,” defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition excludes a number of crimes, including rapes where the victim was drugged or under the influence of alcohol, and all male victims of sexual assault.

Given the definition’s exceedingly narrow scope, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in yearly federal reports that are used to track crime rates in the United States. This under-reporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape and results in fewer resources for both preventing future sexual violence and supporting survivors.

In mid-September, members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), including representatives of police agencies from various cities, met with FBI officials and survivors’ advocates to discuss making the definition more inclusive. The proposed change must now go through an FBI working group later this month and an FBI advisory group in December.

Campaigning by advocates and consensus among local law enforcement agencies created the impetus to change the UCR definition. A recent PERF study reported that 80% of 306 responding police agencies believe the FBI definition is inadequate. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has spearheaded the effort within PERF. He testified about the under-reporting of rape before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in September 2010.

We are hopeful that the FBI will take a big step toward bringing healing and justice to survivors of sexual violence and make this much-needed and long-awaited change to the UCR. Thank you to the advocates and law enforcement officials who have worked to make this change possible.