The FBI is expanding the definition of rape. Image: Flickr / nostri-imago / CC-BY

In the first week of January, the FBI has announced that the definition of rape will be changing for the first time in 80 years. The new definition will encompass forcible sexual acts against men, among other things.

Updating the definition

The FBI is officially updating its definition of rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” to something that encompasses several things that many states consider a crime. Crimes against men will be included in the definition. Crimes committed when an individual is not able to provide legal consent, rather than just when they are physically threatened or restrained, will also be included in the definition. Lastly, the new definition will include acts that are outside the strict definition of “carnal knowledge.”

Effects of the changed definition

The new definition of “rape” will not have any direct effect on the prosecution or punishments of crimes, federally or at the state level. Instead, the changed definition of rape will have an effect on the collation and reporting of statistics about rape. The FBI also believes that the new definition may increase reporting of the crimes, which would improve the accuracy of all the statistics about forcible rape. The statistics are used to distribute funds and resources, so more accurate statistics will help distribute more resources to rape crimes.

A requested change

For decades, women’s rights groups, gay rights groups and children’s rights groups have all requested that the FBI make this change.

“It’s going to give us a better and more accurate picture nationwide of the incidence of rape and where it is occurring,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.

The new definition will not only raise awareness, but many rights groups believe that the press coverage of the new definition will bring wider awareness to the fact that rape is an under-reported crime.


NY Times

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