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Q What is the FBI’s new definition of rape, and what does it mean for law enforcement agencies and our communities?
A What is the FBI’s new definition of rape, and what does it mean for law enforcement agencies and our communities?

In December 2011, FBI Director Robert Mueller officially approved a new, more comprehensive, definition of rape for the UCR program. The previous definition, the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” was extremely limited in its scope. This definition was so limited, that other sexual assault crimes such as oral copulation, sodomy or penetration with a foreign object as well as many victims (such as male victims, many drug- or alcohol-facilitated rape victims, victims with disabilities, minor victims, etc.) did not meet the criteria for Forcible Rape under UCR guidelines and thus remained invisible in UCR crime statistics.

The new definition of 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.

This new definition includes the excluded victim populations mentioned above, meaning that they will now be classified as victims of rape and UCR crime statistics will more accurately reflect the full range of sexual assault offenses.

As a result of this change, many communities will see a dramatic increase in the number of rape cases reported by law enforcement to the FBI as well as the public by law enforcement officials. The public will therefore need strong leadership and clear communication – both from their law enforcement agencies as well as other community leaders – to understand that this does not necessarily mean that more rapes have been committed in their communities. Rather, the data being reported to the FBI now includes the full range of sexual assault offenses that have been committed all along. This will inevitably impact the way these cases are cleared or otherwise closed.

In the long term, we believe the change may lead to an increase in reporting by victims since these other types of felony sexual assaults will finally be visible for the first time since law enforcement started tracking crime statistics for certain offenses.

This information was drawn from the OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module on Clearance Methods for Sexual Assault. For more information, please see the FBI’s website for the UCR Program, particularly their press release on the new definition dated January 6, 2012.

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