New Definition of 'Rape' Isn't Good Enough

rapeSo, here's a piece of news that's both uplifting and unsettling. First, the uplifting part: The FBI just voted, overwhelmingly, to update the archaic definition of rape. The current terminology -- which hasn't been updated since 1929 -- defines rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." Doesn't even really make sense. The new, yet-to-be-implemented wording is much more broad, describing rape as "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." Hopefully, the new, more-encompassing definition will put a stop to the thousands of sexual assaults that go uncounted each year.

As for the unsettling part: Is anyone else completely floored that this is just being updated now?


It really puts where rape and sexual assault fall on the government's priority list into perspective. Not only is the definition of rape 80+ years old, the revamping of the definition wasn't something that came out of the government's own volition. The update is the result of a huge, grassroots campaign launched by the Women’s Law Project, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), and Ms. magazine. Without them, the archaic definition would likely go unchanged for another 80 years.

Definition 2.0 has expounded upon the old one by taking out the requisite of a "forcible" assault and the limitation that the "rape" must be toward a woman. It also now includes non-vaginal/penile rape, and rape by a blood relative. It's pretty unbelievable that these things have not been part of the definition in the past few years. It makes it seem like the only kind of "rape" that would be prosecuted is some sort of medieval kind.

Nevertheless, it's a win. Feminists across the nation, including myself, are obviously pleased with the decision to change the description. Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation, said in a statement, "It's a great victory. This new definition will mean that, at long last, we will begin to see the full scope of this horrific violence, and that understanding will carry through to increased attention and resources for prevention and action." Amen. But it still doesn't diminish the fact that it took this long, and this much effort, to have it revised.

What do you think of the new -- and old -- definitions of "rape"?


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