For many rape survivors, today is an important day. It means that the devastating violence they suffered will now be counted in this nation’s crime statistics. Attorney General Holder announced today that the FBI will be changing the definition of rape used to collect data from local law enforcement about these crimes. This data is published in the Uniform Crime Report and is the nation’s main source of information about crime trends.
The definition of rape used to compile these crime statistics has not been revised since 1927. Revisions are long overdue and welcomed by law enforcement officials and victim advocates. The definition will now include rapes committed against men, as well as a broader range of sexual acts. The new language also removes “forcible” from the definition of rape. These changes mean that rapes that are already being reported to local law enforcement will now be included in our nation’s crime data.
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.
Improving our nation’s response to rape and sexual violence has long been a priority for Vice President Biden and the White House Council on Women and Girls. Early in the Administration, the Vice President convened federal agencies to assess trends and identify gaps in our response to violence and abuse. We identified data collection as one of the biggest challenges we face in understanding and combatting these crime. Thanks to the hard work of the Attorney General Holder, the FBI, law enforcement leaders, and the women’s organizations who have long advocated for this change, we are one step further towards meeting that challenge.
Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.