By Tara Murtha
The FBI recently released the preliminary annual Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics for 2013.
The statistics reflect data submitted voluntarily from 18,415 city, county, state, tribal, campus, and federal law enforcement agencies. While the data is not a complete picture of the number of crime reports to police in the United States, it is significantly closer to accurate in one area in particular: rape.
The 2013 UCR report is the first annual report to use the recently revised definition of rape. This report represents a significant milestone in a long campaign to move national data on sexual assault reports to police closer to reality.
The UCR report numbers are important because the data informs policy, our cultural understanding of problems that must be fixed in society, and the amount of grant money allocated to fund advocacy organizations working on behalf of victims of sex crimes and to improve institutional responses.
Women’s Law Project led the charge to revise the FBI’s UCR definition of rape. In 2010, Executive Director Carol E. Tracy detailed the problem at a hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs.
In 2011, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Advisory Policy Board voted in favor of changing the definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Summary Reporting System (SRS) to reflect what the public understands to be rape, and to conform with state felony sex crime statutes.
Before the revision, the FBI defined rape as “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” It excluded many other variations of rape and all male victims. In other words, it was “narrow, outmoded, steeped in gender-based stereotypes, and seriously understated the true incidence of sex crimes.”
The FBI definition of rape had not been updated since the system was established in 1929.
The revised definition is “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.”
It encompasses male victims and offenders, includes drug-facilitated rape and reflects the various kinds of nonconsensual penetration of rape.
“This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time. “The public has the right to know about the prevalence of sex crimes,” said Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney of the WLP.
The FBI projected that the number of rapes will increase by as much as 41.7% as the more inclusive definition is implemented.
This increase, however, does not necessarily mean that either more rapes are being reported or that rape is increasing. It means that rapes previously recorded as lesser crimes are now being properly recorded as the serious crimes they are and reported to the public as such.
It’s important to note that though closer to accurate, the 2013 UCR rape statistics are still an incomplete snapshot: Not all law enforcement agencies have converted their records management systems to reflect the new definition yet.
According to a recent report in Slate, of the 18,415 agencies that reported to the UCR this year, 10,000 of them are using the revised definition of rape. That’s a 54% compliance rate.
Even as more law enforcement agencies convert to using the new definition, the statistics will still only reflect rapes reported to the police. Rape continues to be one of the most underreported crimes.
If you have any questions about how the new UCR definition of rape, or rape statistics and would like to speak to Carol E. Tracy or Terry Fromson, contact Tara Murtha at 215-928-5762.