Until recently, when a survivor reported a sexual assault to law enforcement, outdated definitions meant their report may not have been counted in national statistics. But, thanks to Attorney General Holder, the United States Department of Justice, the White House, and the FBI, the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) definition of rape has been updated to reflect the high rates of rape in Ohio and across the nation.
The old definition in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program from 1929 included, "Forcible rape is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." The new definition will define rape as, "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." The new definition encompasses non-consensual sexual penetration of any gender, as well as incapacitation from alcohol or drugs, and that physical resistance need not occur.
On Sept. 14, 2010, Carol Tracy of The Women's Law Project, an organization advocating for this change for over a decade, and many other experts testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Hearing on Rape in the United States: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases. In 2011, Ms. Magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign; Rape is Rape, which generated more than 160,000 emails to the FBI and Department of Justice, demanding a change. In December 2011, the FBI Policy Advisory Board recommended the revision. This change will represent a far more accurate picture of reporting rape. Expect to see a gradual increase in reports over the next several years, while these changes take place in local law enforcement agencies, including implementing effective training and making administrative reporting changes.
According to Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, "Updating the definition used to track official statistics across the nation means that rape is more likely to be prosecuted and criminal justice statistics will come closer to revealing what advocates know: rape is an incredibly pervasive national problem. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) showed that 1 in 5 women in the United States has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. The task of our nation now is to use this updated definition and what we know about the extent of the problem of sexual violence to do justice by victims. This must include reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and funding services that are so critical to healing sexual trauma."
The Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence is a coalition of sexual assault, domestic violence and other organizations, as well as individuals throughout Ohio working to eliminate all forms of sexual violence. OAESV provides support, advocacy and policy information to organizations working to advocate for the rights and need of survivors and co-survivors of sexual violence.
Katie Hanna is statewide director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.