For the first time in 80 years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is looking at re-evaluating and re-defining the way that federal law understands the word rape.
Critics, like Carol Tracy, who is Executive Director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia and whose office has long campaigned for a re-look at the definition of rape, say that the current definition of the crime is too narrow and leaves several incidents of rape uncounted, at least as per federal statistics. This results in a lack of justice, or even recognition of the crime, for the victims and poor law enforcement.
Authorities and women's advocacy groups are hoping that the revision will allow for improved tracking of the crime and a shift in attitude among investigators.
From the highest levels of the FBI, there is an understanding that this needs to change. We just need to make sure it happens in the right way, Greg Scarbo, the FBI's Unit Chief for the Uniform Crime Report said, adding that the agency has been in discussions over revisions since last year.
Specifically, federal law in the U.S. defines rape as carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will, thereby excluding acts involving oral and anal penetration, as well as ignoring cases where victims were drugged, under the influence of alcohol or of the male sex.
According to statistics released by the FBI in September, there were 84,767 sexual assaults nationwide last year, 5 percent fewer than in 2009. However, according to experts, sexual assaults have long been among the more under-reported of crimes, with an estimated 80 percent of assaults not referred to the police.
Scarbo added that any change to be incorporated in the definition will be an unfunded directive, saying that the FBI wanted to make sure that all state, local and tribal police agencies understood and supported the change.
We're hoping that at our Oct. 18 meeting we come out with a sound definition ... and do so in a fashion that lessens the impact on resources at the federal, state, local and tribal level. I think we're going to be successful at that - it's just going to take some work, Scarbo was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times.