The Washington Post

Rapes are up under new FBI definition

Dana Bolger, center, and her classmates at Amherst College protesting their administration’s sexual assault policy during the spring semester 2013. (Photo courtesy of It Happens Here)

Two years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it was changing the definition of rape that had been in place since 1927. It took effect for last year’s violent crime count, and, under that new definition, rapes were up in most cities.

Violent crime in general dropped about 5.4 percent between the first half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, according to the FBI’s semiannual Uniform Crime Report. Rapes, however, increased. There were 14,400 rapes reported from January to June last year, up from 13,242 in the first half of 2012.

But it’s unclear how that compares to the year before. Under the old definition, the number of rapes declined 10.6 percent between 2012 and 2013. The rise in number instead reflects the new, more-accurate definition of the crime. The number of instances of rape rose in 138 cities and fell in 119, according to comparisons where data for both years were available. The FBI data captures just a fraction of the nation — only 272 cities, a group home to just over a fourth of the national population.

The nearly 90-year-old definition described “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” Under the new definition, the agency stopped calling it “forcible rape” instead simply referring to the crime as rape. It was also changed to drop reference to gender and is no longer limited to penile penetration  of a vagina. The new description for rape is:

“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.”

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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