The number of sexual assaults that occur in the U.S. each year is actually far higher than what is recorded in the federal government's yearly crime report, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uses what critics say is an extremely narrow and archaic definition of rape.

Many law enforcement officials and advocates for women claim the skewed numbers of reported sexual assaults are misleading the public about the prevalence of sex crimes in the nation while also dismissing a variety of legitimate violations that qualify as rape, according to a report from The New York Times.

As far as the federal government is concerned, rape -- referred to as forcible rape -- is defined as carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Some Sexual Assaults Not Classified As Rape

Written to distinguish between statutory rape and other categories if rape, the definition excludes several examples of sexual assault that are classified as rape by state police departments each year.

Sexual crimes aside from forcible rape and categorized as Part II offenses, the FBI Web site reports, which includes offenses such as the statutory rape of a female victim when no force is used but she is under the age of consent. The Uniform Crime Report only collects arrest data on Part II offenses.

Meanwhile, the FBI classifies any kind of sexual attacks on men as aggravated assaults or sex offenses. The yearly report on violent crime is a widely cited an indicator of national crime trends, which is why critics say it is so important to accurately report the statistics. For instance, the federal government's definition of forcible rape also does not take into account sexual assault scenarios involving anal or oral penetration with an object, or cases where victims are drugged or under the influence of alcohol or other narcotics.

Is FBI's Definition Undercounting Crime of Rape?

The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture, Susan B. Carbon, director of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, told The New York Times. It's the message that we're sending to victims, and if you don't fit that very narrow definition, you weren't a victim and your rape didn't count.

According to the 2010 Uniform Crime Report, which was released by the FBI last week, there were 84,767 sexual assaults in the U.S. last year. However, The New York Times reports that the Chicago Police Department recorded close to 1,400 sexual assaults last year, but none of them appeared on the FBI's report because the city's broader definition of rape does not fit into the FBI's definition.

Similarly, the newspaper reports only 1,036 of the 1,369 rapes recorded by the New York Police Department were included in the federal statistics.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports there were 248,300 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The organization reports that about 2.78 million U.S. men have been victims of sexual assault or rape.

The federal government may be moving to address its antiquated definition of rape. Greg Scarbo, the FBI's unit chief for the Uniform Crime Report, told The New York Times that the agency agreed the definition needs to be revised and said an FBI subcommittee is scheduled to discuss the issue during an Oct. 18 meeting.

The United States is one of the only major Western nations that does not include men as victims of forcible rape. The United Kingdom, France, and Norway all include people of either gender as potential victims of rape. Canada also includes men as potential victims, although its criminal code penalizes sexual assault and does not use the word rape.