Ever since the Federal Bureau of Investigation proposed to change its definition of “rape” in 2011, removing the word “forcible” and making it inclusive to all genders, the number of reported rapes has increased. This change forces us to reevaluate what society, especially victims, define as rape.
The current definition of rape under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report 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.” The old definition, “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” though 90 years old, sounds like something that was written during the Medieval times.
According to the Washington Post, during the first half of 2013, 14,400 rapes were reported, an increase from the 13,242 in the latter half of 2012.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, states that out of every 100 rapes, only get 40 are reported to the police. Only 10 offenders are arrested, and, on top of that, only three will spend a single day in prison.
Some victims have a hard time classifying whether they have been raped. A victim might brush off an assault as nothing because they did not resist physically, do not remember the assault or were unconscious.
However, drugs and alcohol are not an excuse to have sex with a person without their sober and enthusiastic consent. Just because an offender was not aggressive or a victim was not defensive does not mean the rape did not happen. The most important thing to understand is that the key question is: did the victim give consent or not? With a more precise definition, victims may be able to recognize whether they have been raped and may be more inclined to come forward and report it.
Inclusivity is critical and a step forward, especially in such a progressive time as today. The FBI’s new definition is not gender-specific, covering male victims as well those who are transgender or non-binary. Fifty percent of transgender people experience sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, according to the Rape Response Services website. It is unbelievable that this large percentage is overlooked because of an archaic, outdated definition of “rape.”
RAINN hopes that this new definition will also help to change the societal view of assault and the stigmas placed on rape victims that often make them afraid to report their assaults.
Women often are subject to blame and slut shaming, being told that their clothing, flirty behavior or intoxication were the reason for their assault. Men are told that they cannot physically be raped by a woman or are publicly humiliated when they come out as victims of a male-on-male assault, even though three percent of men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
Non-binary and transgender people, who face even more violence, are often overlooked entirely. Also, in several cases, due to their gender expressions, non-binary people are often denied many of the same legal protections that would make reporting their rapes possible.
There needs to be a massive societal change in awareness about why rapes occur in order for sexual violence to decrease. Discussion about this difficult topic is necessary to create a society where victims not only feel safe to share their stories, but also where victims receive the kind of justice they deserve. In changing the definition of rape, the FBI is helping to forward this discussion.