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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

FBI Looks To Redefine Rape

A change in the crime's definition would be the first since 1927.

The FBI might alter--or rather update--the definition of rape for the first time in over 80 years, a move which critics hope will lead to better reports of such crimes.

Advocates of the change, including sex crime investigators and many women's advocacy groups, say that the current definition is outdated and too narrow, thus enabling many criminals to evade being prosecuted as rapists.

"Many survivors are told that their story doesn't matter and their experiences don't count because they don't fit into this narrow conception of what rape 'should be,'" USC senior Lauren Dawson said. "As a result, many survivors are shamed into silence. This happens even more so with male survivors, as there is very little room in our culture for men to talk about surviving sexual violence."
Rape is currently defined as forcible male penile penetration of a female, and has been defined this way since 1927, but it leaves out other forms of sexual assault, such as cases of forced oral and anal penetration. Also excluded from the official definition of rape are cases in which the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol, and male victims.

There were 84,767 sexual assaults in 2010, 5% fewer than in 2009, according to the FBI. However, the numbers may not be accurate, since sexual assaults are among the most underreported crimes with an estimated 80% of assaults not referred to police, experts say. A new definition would give officials a more accurate count of sexual assualt crimes.

A subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Information Service of the FBI plans will meet Oct. 18 in Baltimore to work on redifining rape. Its recommendations will first go to an advisory board and then to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III for approval.

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