This post was guest-written by Nation intern and freelance writer Anna Lekas Miller. Follow her on Twitter.
It would sound pretty ridiculous if a policeman were to say, “I’m sorry, we can’t help you. Your rape does not fit the narrow 1929 guidelines for a forcible rape.”
But this is not too far from the truth.
FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) definition of rape has not been updated since 1929. The 82-year-old definition currently reads,
“The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Included are rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape. Statutory offenses (no force used–victim under age of consent) are excluded.”
What does that even mean?
Forced vaginal sex. And that’s about it.
This definition does not include oral or anal rape. It does not include male rape. It does not include rape with an object. It does not include partner rape. It does not include incest or raping a child. It does not include rape where the victim was unconscious —even if her (or his) assailant gave her (or him) a drug. It doesn’t matter that she might have unknowingly gotten pregnant or contracted an STD —it’s still not forcible enough to be tried as rape!
You got roofied and date raped? Sorry, roofies weren’t invented back in 1929, so we can’t report your rape.
You are a man? That’s impossible. (That’s odd, since the Department of Justice estimates that 93,000 men are raped each year).
Since so many rapes are misclassified (or simply ignored), there is a dangerous false sense of security and progress in reducing rape cases. For example, in 2008 the FBI UCR counted 89,000 rapes, a record low. However, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) which includes rape cases that aren’t officially reported (or perhaps weren’t deemed forcible enough) put the number at 203,830. Still, since many women (and men) conceptualize rape as exclusively vaginal penetration, it is safe to say that the actual number is even higher.
In essence, the FBI UCR is playing a numbers game in which they are crunching rape statistics to shape their reports into what they want them to be, rather than what they actually are.
The big problem is that since law enforcement funding is allocated according to UCR statistics, one of the consequences of this false reporting is that future rape investigations lose their funding through this statistical manipulation. Thousands of rape kits remain untested and backlogged —even though the necessary DNA has been painstakingly collected by the survivor. The DNA is never analyzed and the rapist goes free. It is no coincidence that fifteen out of sixteen rapists never spend a day in jail and ninety-one percent of all rapes are committed by a repeat offender.
As long as the FBI defines rape using woefully outdated parameters, we are deceiving ourselves and only doing a sliver of the work required to combat rape and sexual violence. It is time to join Ms. Magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation and demand that FBI Director Robert Mueller joins the twenty-first century and updates the UCR definition of rape.