At Kidpower we believe and teach that problems should not be secrets and that all people deserve to be safe.
So today I must applaud the announcement that the FBI and the Department of Justice have finally expanded the definition of the crime of rape to include the sexual assaults of men, children and any adult who cannot give consent to sex. Though I hate the idea that anyone would experience this or any kind of violence in their lives, it is important to define it accurately in our statistics, so we can work more effectively to prevent this terrible crime.
It’s hard to believe that until today the definition of rape in the FBI statistics, the Uniform Crime Report, which is the country’s national “report card” on serious crime, did not include sexual assaults of men, children, or anyone who wasn’t able to give consent (or fight back!) due to mental incapacity. But it’s true.
As reported in most major news outlets today such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, rape has been defined since 1929 as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition included only men having sex with women without their consent, and excluded other forms of sexual assault, such as anal or oral penetration, the rape of a man, the rape of a woman by a woman, or rape that did not include physical force such as in instances when someone has been drugged, is drunk or has a mental disability.
USA Today reported that this also means that many of the sex crimes alleged in the ongoing prosecution of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky would also not be counted (in the FBI’s crime reports) under the former definition of rape.
The definition is important.
It’s important because hundreds of thousands of rapes were essentially made secret by being excluded from the official U.S. rape statistics—statistics that are used to determine the level of resources federal, state and local policy makers put toward preventing and prosecuting rape.
Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, one of 90 other organizations that support victims of sexual abuse have been pushing for such a change for more than a decade, is quoted in USA Today saying that the public has long been “misled” about the prevalence of rape. “If you can’t measure it accurately, you can’t monitor it and you can’t direct appropriate resources to deal with the problem,” Tracy said.
I’ll say it again—at Kidpower we believe and teach that problems should not be secrets and that ALL people deserve to be safe.
This change in the definition of rape means that rape will become less and less shrouded in secrecy and stigma, no matter who was targeted, or by whom. It means that the county and state governments, many of whom had expanded their definitions of rape, can now report the full numbers to the FBI and that they can go back and re-report historically based on the expanded definition. This means that the public and policymakers will have better information for making decisions and will be able to understand the need to devote more resources in law enforcement, health care, and rape and violence prevention!
In the White House blog, Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women wrote, ”Changing this definition is about more than statistics—it’s about the women and men behind the statistics and what happened to them. It’s about how we view rape and how seriously we take this crime. The act of rape causes intense physical and emotional suffering. Rape victims are much more likely to need mental health services, to attempt suicide, and to face ongoing health problems than those who have not experienced this type of crime. When victims are suffering so greatly yet are invisible in our crime data, it limits our ability to fully understand the extent of the problem.”
The statistics on rape that are reported by the FBI are going increase dramatically over the next several years. Much of the rise will be from expanding the definition at the highest levels, but I think we will also see increased reporting among men, teenagers, and people with disabilities; many of whom were not allowed to or willing to report in the past when their experience was not acknowledged for what it was and the resources were not made available to them for prevention, support, healing and justice.
Kidpower has been committed to teaching people of all ages and walks of life how to prevent and deter violence for more than 20 years and we hope this newly expanded definition at the highest levels will translate not just into expanded statistics, but more important, into positive action to address and prevent rape at every level of society.
As an international nonprofit leader in violence prevention, Kidpower offers personal safety and full-force self defense workshops for women, men, children, seniors, college students, and people with developmental, physical or mental challenges. We address the pattern of attack in age- and life-situation appropriate ways, giving students the opportunity to practice awareness, make safety plans, stay in charge, move to safety at the earliest chance, verbal and physical skills for stopping an attack and getting help.
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