Update: FBI changes official definition of rape

In a major victory and update on Lori’s post from Monday, the FBI has voted to change the definition of rape so that all rapes are counted properly. As Lori said,

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 Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee voted unanimously to change the definition of rape, which had not been changed for 80 years (!) and rape will now be defined as, “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.”

To put it in simple terms: by changing the official definition of rape, more rapes will be officially counted, thereby allowing more resources to be targeted towards prevention and prosecution.


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  • davenj

    But men still can’t get raped using this definition. Except, of course, by other men.

    Limited progress.

    • http://feministing.com/members/chart1001/ Courtney

      If I’m understanding it correctly, the FBI deliberately left out mention of gender in order to ensure that the policy addresses all gender identifying individuals – maybe I’m giving them too much credit, but it seems as though it’s all encompassing:

      “penetration, no matter how slight, of the…anus with any body part or object…without the consent of the victim.”

      Seems like it covers anal (as well as oral) penetration for men and makes the distinction that it can occur with any object, not just with penis or digits of other men…no?

      • davenj

        But it’s not. People can be raped without being penetrated. Defining rape as a penetrative act diminishes and denies the experiences of rape victims.

        It comes back around to the tired old trope of “if he’s hard, that’s consent”, which is clearly not true.

        There’s a tragic irony in calling this definition “all encompassing”, when encompassing the penis without consent is left out of the definition.

        • http://feministing.com/members/chungyen/ Chungyen Chang

          I came here specifically to comment on this.

          [trigger warning: nonconsensual incest, rape]

          This definition is unfortunately still penetration-centric, which means that my experience with incest (having my older brother perform fellatio on me) is yet again not considered real rape. This also leaves out another man I know who was forced to perform cunninlingus on a woman– an act which can involve penetration, but not by the perpetrator.

          It’s progress, but it’s still leaving people out who need the law to legitimize prosecution.

          • http://feministing.com/members/chungyen/ Chungyen Chang

            er. to clarify that last bit:

            This also leaves out a man I know who was forced to perform cunninlingus on a woman– an act which can involve penetration (but not necessarily). And it says that people with vaginas can’t rape people in this way, when they can.

    • http://feministing.com/members/sexoutofwedlock/ nicole mercier

      My smartphone keys are small, I didn’t mean to report this I meant to reply to it! And I wanted to say, “good point, davenj”

  • http://feministing.com/members/murray/ Guybrush Threepwood

    I’m not as well-versed in rape laws as I should be considering I was involved in a Clothesline project, but from what I learned then, my guess is that this brings the FBI’s rape definition (ie the legal definition for the crime that people can get prosecuted for (in theory) in a court) in line with other legal definitions. Many laws I believe do define “rape” as penetrative and “sexual assault” as a more inclusive definition of consent crimes. That said I’m short on time and out of my element on this.

    My point is just: I agree that the celebration is mitigated by the penetration-centric definition and the lack of consent definitions other than “without consent” rather than as was mentioned in the first post, defining alcohol-related assaults and the like… that said, I think this might be legalese that has to do with the splitting up of sexual assaults into different legal categories.

    • http://feministing.com/members/chart1001/ Courtney

      All valid, dave, chungyen and nicole. When Guybrush chimed in, he clarified what I was trying to say (thx, Guybrush) but perhaps didn’t say so clearly: that at least the formal definition of rape is inclusive of ALL penetrative acts across the board, since it clearly wasn’t before.

      But to take it a step further, you’re all correct that the definition of rape, as written, doesn’t include all possible permutations of an assault that’s sexual in nature against someone, regardless of whether there’s penetration or not. I’m assuming that’s because of the legal distinction between sexual assault and rape, as Guybrush pointed out.

      Which brings us to a whole new debate and of course, begs the question of whether the distinction between the two should even exist – I’m sure this thread could go on for days addressing that. I certainly hope that since the policy is written in a way that isn’t completely inclusive, as dave and chungyen pointed out, that the FBI also has an additional policy for sexual assaults…though I’m guessing they don’t or it would’ve most likely been mentioned in conjunction with this change.

      So, all in all, a victory, but damn – a minor one.