By Ally Karsyn
Countless cases of sexual assault are excluded from federal statistics each year. Since 1927, the FBI has been using the same definition of rape, meaning they only count cases of “forcible male penile penetration of a female.” Any sexual assault that falls outside this narrow definition doesn’t count as rape.
In a long-awaited move, the FBI took its first step last week to expand the federal definition of rape. A subcommittee met and proposed to remove “forcible” from the violent crime’s title, and then approved the following definition: “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.” But this is only the beginning of the process. The new definition needs to be approved by the Advisory Policy Board in December and then, receive final approval from FBI Director Robert Mueller.
For many years, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Women’s Law Project and other advocacy groups have been lobbying for this change. Currently, FBI crime reports do not include sexual assaults involving forced oral or anal sex or assault with an object; same-sex sexual assault; cases where victims were drugged or intoxicated; and all male victims.
In the 2010 Uniform Crime Report (UCR), the FBI reported 84,767 sexual assaults in the United States last year, down 5 percent from 2009. But these numbers do not reflect the reality of rape culture or prevalence of sexual assault.
For over 80 years, rape has been defined as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Statistical data, based on these narrow terms, leads to underreporting and a lack of federal funding allocated to sexual assault support services. Furthermore, simplifying criminal sexual assault into terms of “forced” penile-vaginal penetration only is an insult to basic human rights.
Right now, the FBI’s definition of rape facilitates the blatant victimization of women and places men in the category of always being the attacker, but not all sexual assaults are forced (some are coerced) and sometimes the victims are men.
One middle-aged man said he has been a victim of sexual assault several times in his life. Joe* recounts a particular assault that happened when he was in college: “One time, at a party, I was passed out in an upstairs bedroom and awoke to a girl on top of me with her skirt pulled up. Was it my fault for getting drunk? Partially. Was it right for her to do that? Probably not.”
Joe said he has been trying to bring awareness to male sexual assault for years because it happens, but most men are too ashamed to ever admit it. And that’s where victims of sexual assault are the same – women and men share common ground in shame and blame, and that’s not right.
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the country for reasons like this. Victims fear they will get blamed for being drunk or high or “dressed a certain way.” Showing a little bit of leg does not give someone the right to rape. And likewise, men do not always want sex.
By maintaining an archaic definition of rape, the sexual assaults of many men and women have been obscured. The FBI must expand their definition to meet those of city police departments and state agencies to hold all perpetrators of sexual assault accountable on all levels – federal, state and local.
To the victims, I say, “It’s not your fault.” And to the system, “Shame on you for taking so long to deal with this issue.”
Tell the FBI: Rape is Rape! Sign the petition today.
Ally Karsyn is a freelance journalist/writer and communications intern at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. Until recently, she has been a contributing writer for Her Campus, and this past summer, she was a political reporter for the Des Moines Register. You can follow her on Twitter @AllyKarsyn.