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New Definition of Rape Will Help Victims, Law Enforcement, Says National Center for Victims of Crime

January 6, 2012

Liz Joyce

Washington, DC: The National Center for Victims of Crime today applauded U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.'s, announcement of revisions to the definition of rape by the Uniform Crime Report. These long-awaited improvements, which will produce more accurate reporting of rape, will create a more comprehensive picture of the scope of this heinous crime.

Under the new definition, which better reflects state criminal codes, 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 the other person, without consent of the victim." This definition--which extends beyond the previous definition of rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will"--now includes the rape of men, penetration of the body by objects, the rape of females by females, and non-forcible rape.

"Since we published Rape in America twenty years ago, we have stressed that rape does not always involve force, threat of force, or penetration," said National Center for Victims of Crime Executive Director Mai Fernandez. "The previous, narrow definition of the crime, combined with our society's unawareness of the scope and impact of forcible rape, has led to underreporting and misunderstanding of the crime."

Understanding a problem requires grasping its true extent. By including victims or perpetrators of any gender--as well as instances in which the victim cannot consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (including the influence of drugs or alcohol)--the new definition will help law enforcement collect more complete rape offense data and lead to greater awareness of the scope of the crime. And it sends a message--as stated by Susan B. Carbon, Justice Department Director of the Office on Violence Against Women--that victims will be supported and perpetrators held accountable.

"This new definition will encourage victims, empower law enforcement, and build public awareness about a devastating crime," said Fernandez. "We applaud Attorney General Holder, FBI Director Mueller, and the U.S. Department of Justice for advancing justice through this redefinition of rape."


The National Center for Victims of Crime, established in 1985, is the nation's leading resource and advocacy organization for crime victims and those who serve them. For more than 25 years, the National Center has led this nation's struggle to provide crime victims with the rights, protections, and services they need to rebuild their lives. For more information, visit www.ncvc.org.