The definition of rape that dictates how local police departments report crimes to federal record keepers is expected to change — for the first time in more than 80 years — in early 2012.
The final step of changing the Uniform Crime Report definition of rape was publicly acknowledged Wednesday, when FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he approved expanding a definition that critics say was too narrow.
"[I]t was in some ways unworkable, certainly not … fully applicable to the types of crime that it should cover," Mueller said in response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about why it was important to update the rape definition. "I approved a change to that definition, and my expectation is it will go into effect some time this spring."
A call and an email to the FBI on Thursday night were not immediately returned.
"Revising the definition of rape would result in a higher and more accurate number of rapes that are reported nationwide each year," said Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Women's advocates accelerated their push for an updated definition last year with a hearing on Capitol Hill, spurred in part by reporting by The Baltimore Sun showing how city police had misclassified rapes and sexual assaults for years. Critics say that the current definition is too narrow and leaves crimes uncounted in police statistics, resulting in fewer resources for victims and law enforcement.
"As we in Baltimore know all too well, the accurate and complete reporting of sexual assault is critically important in order to build victim confidence and trust, as well as to understand the nature of the problem nationwide," Guglielmi said.
Since the 1920s, rape has been defined as forcible penile penetration of a female. The definition does not include oral and anal penetration, penetration when a victim was unconscious or male victims.
The new definition includes "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."
In Baltimore, reported rapes increased nearly 70 percent last year after police overhauled the way the department investigated sex crimes.
"Data drives resources, and the [Uniform Crime Report] data is used to allocate federal funds," said Carol Tracy, director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project. "Now that we will have accurate data, we need resources appropriately allocated to fight this hideous crime."