Robert Mueller
FBI Director Robert Mueller is expected to approve a new definition of rape to replace the outdated one the FBI has used since 1929. Reuters

The FBI may change its definition of rape for the first time since 1929, updating a definition that critics say is so archaic it would be laughable -- if it didn't actively suppress the number of rapes reported.

The FBI currently defines rape as the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will, with carnal knowledge meaning the act of a man having sexual bodily connections with a woman; sexual intercourse.

Among the acts that may not be considered rape under that definition:

- Statutory rape
- Forcible oral sex
- Partial penetration
- Penetration with an inanimate object
- Sex when the victim is intoxicated and unable to consent
- Any sexual assault in which the victim is male

The proposed new definition is 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.

That definition was approved last week by an advisory group called the Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee, and it now requires FBI Director Robert Mueller's approval. Advocates hope the new definition will be in use by January.

The narrowness of the current definition got a lot of attention earlier this year, when U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., proposed a bill that would have made rape victims pay for abortions out of their own pocket unless they had been forcibly raped. Critics of the definition add that, in addition to marginalizing the victims of non-traditional rape, it also artificially reduces rape statistics and minimizes the perceived severity of the problem.

Individual cities and states have more comprehensive definitions, but in compiling national rape statistics, the FBI only counts those rapes reported under its own, narrow definition.

In fact, in 2010, the FBI did not count any of the 1,400 rapes reported in Chicago because Chicago's definition was broader than the FBI's. This means that even attacks that did fit the FBI's definition of rape went unrecorded because Chicago reported them along with attacks that did not fit the definition.

Rape Statistics Likely to Increase Under Revised Metric, More-Accurately Reflecting Incidents

Under the new definition, official rape statistics would increase sharply, which advocates say could lead to more resources being dedicated to efforts to investigate rape cases and otherwise fight sexual assault.

Currently, only 18 percent of rapes are reported, according to Lynn Blanco, the president and CEO of the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center in Texas.

Until we really have a true picture, we don't know how to even start tackling the problem, Blanco told KSAT, a local ABC affiliate. It's really going to shine a light on what the crime is and how the crime is occurring across the country. I think it is going to allow victims to come in and more easily report and, more importantly, get their crime counted.

That, in turn, would foster more trust between rape victims and law enforcement officials, another advocate said.

In some communities, when they know a serious sex crime has occurred and the report comes out and doesn't list it, the community thinks the police are lying and not reporting it, Carol Tracy, the executive director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia, told Public Radio International.