By Debbie Siegelbaum - 01/06/12 04:47 PM EST
The Department of Justice has broadened its definition of rape to lead to more comprehensive statistical reporting of the crime nationwide.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday announced the changes to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape, which the Justice Department said better reflect state criminal codes and focus on the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape.
The White House also weighed in on the changes. Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, said the administration supported the update and had worked with the DOJ on the matter.
“This major policy change will lead to more accurate reporting and far more comprehensive understanding of this devastating crime,” she said Friday on a media conference call. “We all recognize that rape is a very serious problem facing women, men and communities throughout our country.”
Vice President Biden, author of the Violence Against Women Act, also publicly supported the measure.
“Rape is a devastating crime, and we can’t solve it unless we know the full extent of it,” he wrote Friday in the DOJ statement. “This long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years.”
The Uniform Crime Report’s previous definition of rape, first adopted in 1929, was much narrower in scope and was limited only to forcible penile penetration of a vagina, according to the DOJ.
The new definition of 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 another person, without the consent of the victim,” according to the DOJ.
The revised definition includes “any gender of victim or perpetrator, and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age,” the statement added.
Police departments submit data on reported crimes and arrests to the Uniform Crime Report. The data is then reported nationally and used to measure and understand crime trends.
“This change will give law enforcement the ability to report more complete rape offense data, as the new definition reflects the vast majority of state rape statutes,” wrote David Cuthbertson, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services assistant director, in Friday’s statement.
“As we implement this change, the FBI is confident that the number of victims of this heinous crime will be more accurately reflected in national crime statistics,” he added.
According to Cuthbertson, 84,767 forcible rapes were reported in 2010 under the old definition.
Cuthbertson declined to hazard a guess during Friday’s call as to how the new definition would affect that number moving forward.
But he did say the FBI expects “to see an increase in reported rape offense data once the law enforcement community has successfully made the necessary reporting changes impacting this data collection.”