U.S. Justice Department Revises Rape Definition

The United States Justice Department has recently changed the definition of rape.  The old and archaic definition described rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”  This definition applied only to female victims who had been raped by vaginal penetration.  Based on this narrow definition, the United States Justice Department refrained from counting victims who had been anally or orally penetrated by their rapist in their annual national statistics on rape.  Based on this definition, national statistics did not reflect male rape victims either.


The new definition is as follows, “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.” Many states have already adopted rape laws with this language.  Since many states already have such language, male victims and female victims who have been raped orally or anally are protected in the courts.  The importance of this change by the Department of Justice is for statistical purposes.  Previously, the nation’s statistics on rape only reflected vaginal rape committed on females.  It is clear that past statistics based on the former definition do not present an accurate or honest reflection of the presence of rape in our country.
The recent allegations against Jerry Sandusky have brought attention to child molestation cases involving young boys. Prior to the change in the rape definition, these cases would not have been counted in the national rape statistics.  A CNN article quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Justice who stated that this definitional expansion will create a more accurate report on rape in the US and will encourage reporting.
While this new definition will allow for more accurate reporting I do not believe that reporting will be encouraged. The past and current tone in out country regarding rape is not one of encouragement or of acceptance. Rather, victims both male and female alike are often shamed into silence and blamed for the horrible acts that they have been subjected to. For the Department of Justice to truly encourage reporting, it must work to change the present dialogue regarding rape in order to create a safe environment for rape victims of all genders and all ages.