The legal definition of rape is being overhauled for the first time in 80 years. The updates, spearheaded by the Obama administration, will include the ability to recognize men as victims of the crime as well as any victim who is unable to give consent or who is violated with an object.
The revisions are aimed at collecting more accurate data about sex crimes and come in the wake of high-profile sexual assault cases as well as years of pressure from women´s rights and gay advocacy groups to broaden the definition, reports Pete Yost for AP.
The previous law, since 1927, was defined as the “carnal knowledge” of a woman, forcibly and against her will, which included penetration of a woman´s vagina, but excluded oral or anal penetration and the rape of men.
The new definition details, “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.”
Under the new definition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will be able to collect better data on the number of rapes committed in the United States as well as give more accurate information to lawmakers about the crime in order to help prevent and prosecute it.
This wider definition is expected to have no impact on actual prosecutions, as each state has its own legal definition of rape, and Friday´s announcement does not change how local and state officials prosecute a crime.
Many states have already adopted a wider definition of rape, although advocates hope the new federal standard will convince any remaining states with narrower laws to expand them, reports Susan Heavey and Jeremy Pelofsky for Reuters.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama explains, “This major policy change will lead to more accurate reporting and far more comprehensive understanding of this devastating crime. Without an accurate understanding of the magnitude of the problem, how can we effectively solve it? Definitions matter because people matter.”
Previously, the FBI recognized only forcible vaginal penetration of a woman as “rape.” The new definition expands rape to include oral and anal sex acts against women as well as men. It also says if a victim cannot give consent for any reason, including drug or alcohol use, the crime is a rape even if force is not used.
Terry O´Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), tell Reuters, “It´s going to give us a better and more accurate picture nationwide of the incidence of rape and where it is occurring.”
Advocates applaud the move, responding that having a national definition would help raise awareness about what constitutes rape — an important first step in recognizing what is considered one of the most under-reported crimes in the US.
The FBI estimated in 2010, the latest data available, that there were almost 85,000 forcible rapes under the previous definition and that the crime occurs in the United States every 6.2 minutes, BBC News reports. Preliminary FBI statistics show that the forcible rape rate declined 5.1 percent in the first half of 2011 compared to the same period of the previous year.
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