FBI to vote on changing archaic rape definition (Updated)

Exciting news! Word around town is that the FBI is considering changing their terribly outdated definition of rape, with a key vote on the the term scheduled during an FBI subcommittee meeting tomorrow.

You’ll remember that the FBI currently defines rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”, which, as Vanessa explained back in April, excludes statutory rape, same-sex rape, forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object and victims who are male or transgender or have disabilities, not to mention those who have taken drugs or alcohol and therefore had their ability to consent  “diminished”.

The scheduled vote is already being hailed as a victory by many women’s health and advocacy groups, including the Women’s Law Project, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Ms. Magazine, who have been calling upon the FBI to modernize the 80+-year-old definition of forcible rape. A Change.org petition started by these groups has garnered over 130,000 signatures already. From the petition, started this summer:

The FBI’s flawed definition of rape excludes any form of sexual assault that falls outside of the narrowest understanding of heterosexual sex, including the rape of men and boys as well as transgender people.

The emphasis on “forcible” rape also means that the rape or assault of women with physical or mental disabilities and those who were unconscious or under the influence of drugs and alcohol… are often excluded.

The FBI’s 2007 Uniform Crime Report listed 91,874 “forcible rapes,” but some estimates suggest the actual number may be 24 times higher.

The FBI’s underreporting of rapes translates to less federal funding for police departments nationwide to test rape kits — and fewer investigators bringing rapists to justice.

I’m sure there will be many more updates to this story, and I will definitely keep you posted! But this is surely an exciting and historic development, if a terribly overdue one, in the struggle against sexual assault and the rape culture that allows it.


If you’re moved to take action on this issue, as I am, you can click here to email FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder directly and tell them how you feel about the FBI definition of rape.
Via Jessica Stites/Ms. Magazine.

FBI Director Robert Mueller

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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