The federal definition of rape, used to determine how national crime data are collected, has been changed for the first time in more than 80 years, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.
A more inclusive definition of forcible rape is expected to improve the accuracy of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, which aggregate crime statistics from local law enforcement agencies across the country.
The old definition, in effect since 1927, said that "forcible rape" was "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." It covered only forcible penile penetration of a vagina. The new definition is "the 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 change was expected. FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee in mid-December that he had approved the new definition after a series of hearings, including an October meeting in Baltimore, about making the classification more expansive.
Advocates for the change hope that more accurate statistics will boost law enforcement resources allocated to preventing and investigating rapes and assisting victims.
Women's advocates accelerated their push for an updated definition last year with a hearing on Capitol Hill, spurred in part by reporting by The Baltimore Sun showing how city police had misclassified rapes and sexual assaults for years.
"Revising the definition of rape would result in a higher and more accurate number of rapes that are reported nationwide each year," Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said last year. "As we in Baltimore know all too well, the accurate and complete reporting of sexual assault is critically important in order to build victim confidence and trust, as well as to understand the nature of the problem nationwide."
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