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FBI Rape Definition for Crime Data Needs Broadening, Panel Says

The definition of rape in U.S. crime statistics compiled by the FBI should be broadened, a panel of outside advisers recommended.

Rape data also should include anal and oral sex regardless of the gender of the victim or suspect, the advisers concluded at a closed-door meeting on Oct. 18 in Baltimore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said yesterday on its website. The current definition includes only vaginal intercourse.

If adopted, the new definition would more closely align the FBI’s statistics with states’ definitions of rape, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project, who had requested the revision.

“It means the public will have more accurate data about the existence of serious sex crimes in our communities,” Tracy said in a telephone interview. “Because data drives resources, we believe more resources will be brought to bear to investigating rape cases and apprehending rapists.”

The recommendation was made by a subcommittee of an FBI advisory panel. The full board is scheduled to take up the proposal at a December meeting and forward its recommendation to FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to the agency.

The FBI now asks law enforcement agencies to report only “forcible rape,” defined as “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

Rapes Decreased

There were an estimated 4,767 forcible rapes reported to law enforcement in 2010, down 5 percent from the year before, according to the FBI.

Eighty percent of law enforcement leaders surveyed in August by the Police Executive Research Forum, a membership group, said the current definition is inadequate.

“It gives a very skewed picture of sexual assault in this country and, as a result, the public may not recognize the true incidence of sexual assault,” said Jennifer Gentile Long, director of AEquitas, a Washington-based non-profit organization that provides prosecutors with training on cases involving violence against women.

If adopted, the new definition is likely to result in a bump in the violent crime rate reported by the FBI, said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in Alexandria, Virginia.

“There will be a one-time change, a new baseline,” said James Reams, the county attorney for Rockingham County, New Hampshire.

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