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Finally! Thanks to women’s rights groups like Women’s Law Project and Feminist Majority the FBI has finally taken steps to broaden its definition of rape. The definition has not been updated since 1929. Yikes!

The definition as it currently stands is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” But this definition leaves out a wide spectrum of sexual assault, and consequently leads us to think that rape is less prevalent than it really is. From The New York Times:

But that definition, critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting.

How many rapes are we missing? Chicago alone had 1,400 rapes that didn’t count according to the FBI, because Chicago has a broader rape definition. Those are 1,400 survivors that are told that, as far as the federal government is concerned, their experiences don’t count.

But this goes beyond validating the experiences of victims. Every person has the right to know or have access to information about crime in their communities. Furthermore, as these numbers artificially deflate, it reduces the urgency of dealing with the systemic structures that make sexual assault acceptable. Having accurate information is a necessary first step toward addressing a very real problem.

Hopefully this move by the FBI will help us glean some accurate information on the state of rape in this country. The changes were recommended by the FBI subcommittee yesterday, and the new definition subject to approval by the full advisory board in December. I haven’t read anything that is pessimistic about approval, so hopefully we will be able to celebrate a new year of accurate crime statistics.

Honestly, what is more exciting than that?

Image credit: cliff1066