Each year, the FBI fails to count hundreds of thousands of rapes in its Uniform Crime Report (UCR)—even missing many rapes that are reported to police. That’s because for over 80 years, the FBI has been using the same fundamentally flawed definition of “forcible” rape: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” to track rape statistics in the UCR.
This excludes rapes involving forced anal sex and/or oral sex, vaginal or anal fisting, rape with an object (even if serious injuries result), rapes of men and transgender people and other injurious and degrading sexual assaults. Also, because the definition includes the word “forcibly,” police departments often interpret the rule (against UCR guidelines) as leaving out rapes of women with physical or mental disabilities and those who were unconscious or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
A recent Ms. investigation revealed that the archaic definition plays a key role in the vast underreporting of rape in the U.S.:
· The FBI’s 2007 Uniform Crime Report listed 91,874 “forcible rapes”, but some estimates suggest the actual number may be 24 times higher.
· Police departments go to great lengths to look good on the UCR, the FBI’s comprehensive national crime report by which all U.S. police departments are judged, and federal funding is determined. Often this means interpreting “forcible rape” even more narrowly than the FBI does when classifying sexual crimes.
· Police departments across the country, notably Baltimore and Philadelphia, have been found to be juking the stats—coding legitimate rape cases as “unfounded” in order to make it appear that rape numbers have declined.
Without an accurate definition, we won't have accurate statistics about rape, and without accurate statistics, we will never have adequate funding for law enforcement to solve these crimes. A change in the definition of rape would lead to better law enforcement response and could thus reduce dramatically the incidence of rape.
It’s high time for a change. For rape survivors, a modern definition of rape at the federal level would acknowledge, once and for all, that rape is rape—and that the stories and experiences of all rape survivors count.
Make sure that all rapes are counted. Sign this petition to tell FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder to update the overly narrow, outdated “forcible rape” definition.
- Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
- U.S. Attorney General
I was shocked to learn that the FBI uses an archaic definition of rape (“The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”) to gather statistics for the Uniform Crime Report. This definition, drafted more than 80 years ago, is problematic for many reasons, chief among them that it excludes victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape, and male rape. Moreover, this definition is often used by law enforcement to exclude rapes of women whose ability to give consent has been diminished by drugs or alcohol.
This poses several problems:
1. This archaic definition of what constitutes "real rape" affects perception of the crime by law enforcement, and likely impacts the treatment of rape victims
2. With such an incomplete description, the FBI has undercounted rapes by hundreds of thousands of cases, resulting in an inaccurate understanding of the scope of the problem.
3. Without accurate rape statistics, allocation of funding to (and within) local law enforcement to combat and investigate crime will be misdirected away from this terrible crime.
It’s high time for the FBI to recognize this error and modernize the definition to reflect the reality of rape in the United States. Please update the Uniform Crime Report so that the definition of rape includes all victims. Every rape should be counted.
I look forward to your reply.
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