The FBI has used the same definition of rape since 1929: “Forcible rape” is defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” a definition which has excluded victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape and male rape. On Wednesday, October 18, the Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) voted unanimously to expand its definition of rape in the UCR:
The new definition–of “rape,” no longer “forcible rape”–defines the crime 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.” The FBI would maintain data on “forcible rape” only for research and comparison.
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), says that
“This will ensure the crime of rape is measured in a way that it includes all rape, and it essentially becomes a crime to which more resources are allocated. It’s intolerable the amount of violence against women, and we feel this will have a significant impact.”
The vote to change the FBI’s definition of rape — to say that rape is rape — has come only after years of lobbying by groups including the Women’s Law Project.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and working groups will now consider the proposed new definition before it is passed on for review by the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB) in December. The APB will then make recommendation to FBI Director Robert Mueller (who has already received nearly 140,000 emails asking him to update the definition) for final approval.
The vote to say that “rape is rape” and to make sure that all rapes are counted is a major victory. It is all the more so in a year that has seen a highly publicized case about sexual assault — that of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with attempted rape by New York city hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo — dropped by the Manhattan prosecutor, on the grounds that Diallo had previously lied in other instances of sworn testimony.
Last week, a French court also ruled that charges of attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn will be dropped. French writer Tristane Banon had accused Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her when she interviewed him for a book in 2003. Just on Wednesday, October 19, Banon said that she will not pursue a civil suit against him. The prosecutor had recognized that Banon was a victim of sexual assault and said that there was evidence for this, but that it could not pursue the case because the three-year statute of limitations has expired.
Banon’s case and that of Diallo have led to renewed interest about feminism and groups working for women’s rights in France. One such group, Paroles de Femmes, is hoping to extend the statute of limitations from three to ten years — to advocate for change that, like the FBI vote to say that rape is rape in the US, will give women the legal protections that are their right.
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Photo by Helga Weber