This month, the FBI changed the definition of rape used in crime reports for the first time since 1927.
For nearly a century, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program defined rape as “carnal knowledge of a female, forcible and against her will.”
“It’s narrow, outmoded and steeped in gender-based stereotypes,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project. “It understates the true incidence of sex crime.”
Tracy’s organization has been pushing for 10 years to update the definition. It now includes victims who were drugged into submission, as well as sodomy and rape by object. Tracy said this will give a truer picture of the incidence of sex crimes.
“Ultimately, accurate data is a foundational and fundamental starting point to improving police response to sex crimes,” Tracy said.
The new definition will not change how rape is prosecuted, but it could significantly increase the number of rapes reported in the FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States” report.
Chuck Wexler, director of the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, said those statistics influence how Congress allocates federal funding and local police departments assign staff.
“The Uniform Crime Reporting system is the centerpiece of how we measure crime every year,” Wexler said. “So this is very important in terms of allocating resources.”
The Women’s Law Project spearheaded the push for the change. It first asked the FBI to update the definition after reports a decade ago that some sex crimes in Philadelphia were not being investigated.
Tracy and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey testified on the topic before Congress last year.