Feds finally update archaic rape definition

The US Federal government has finally updated (don’t read the comments!) the old quaint sounding definition of rape to one that’s more useful in this day and age. The old version was:

the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will

Which left out males of all ages, any act that didn’t involve vaginal penetration, penetration by an object rather than a body part, female on female rape, and “non-forcible” rape, as in, rape under threat/coercion, or the use of date rape drugs or possibility the victim was not able to consent (unconscious, too young, developmentally challenged, etc.).

The new definition will be:

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

This still leaves out things like groping, or forcing someone under thread to perform an act with their hands. But those are typically classified as “sexual assault”, and covered under state laws to varying degrees.

I don’t believe this will affect trials much (if someone knows better, please speak up). States have their own definitions of rape and sexual assault, many of them far more advanced than the old federal definition, and those will continue to apply to rape cases.

But what this does affect is how the Feds deal with rape, so the main benefit of this change will be vastly improved FBI/Department of Justice statistics. Police voluntarily report crimes to the FBI, but if the rapes didn’t meet the federal criteria, they didn’t get counted, or got counted as “sexual assaults” which are typically considered lesser crimes.

In Baltimore, reported rapes increased nearly 70 percent last year after police overhauled the way the department investigated sex crimes.

That means a lot of what the Feds now consider rape was being classified as sexual assault or possibly even other crimes entirely, such as domestic violence.

Stats like these are used to determine federal funding to law enforcement projects and assistance programs. For the first time, in a few years, we’ll have official federal stats about how often drugged rapes happen, or how often men are raped.

This comes slightly less than a year after the Republicans finally gave up their bid to redefine rape as as “forcible” only, for the purposes of determining who can get an abortion on Federally funded Medicaid. Their goal was, I guess, to prevent victims of date rape drugs and thirteen year old statutory rape victims from receiving abortions (while still allowing victims of brutal rape to get abortions). Of course, since then they have just switched tactics and are now focused on making it impossible for anyone to get an abortion under any conditions.

The FBI reported that in 2010 rapes occurred every 6.2 seconds. They expect that alarming number to rise considerably over the next few years, as local police update their reporting to conform to the Federal law.


  1. Casey says

    I’m assuming the garbage comments on CNN are whining about how now people are gonna go on a “false accusation-spree” or some such nonsense and now a man can’t even bump into a woman ~~accidentally~~ without being accused of rape, amirite?

  2. Shaun says


    I kind of want to know what the comments are too but I kind of don’t want to click the link more. >>

    I heard this was coming down the pipe. I’m glad.

  3. says

    LOL – the comments keep changing (newest ones at the top), but they were consistently full of rape jokes and other offensive notions. I reported about 12 of them for moderation and then thought, “Wait, why the hell am I reading CNN comments? It’s always just Ron Paul supporters and the jackasses that time forgot.”

  4. Fairfield says

    Anyone else feel slightly addicted to reading comments, even when you know it’s going to be painful? It reminds me slightly of that morbid curiosity you get if driving past a car-crash: a part of your brain warns you, but the other part is screaming for you to look. This is a long overdue change though, why did it take so long, anyone know?

  5. says


    Maybe the “just don’t read the comments” article should be a follow-up to the “just don’t feed the trolls” article, LOL.

    I don’t know precisely why it took so long, but interesting tidbit from the first link:

    “The push for a revision started with the Women’s Law Project over a decade ago. Tracey had a letter written to FBI Director Robert Mueller that was slated to be mailed on September 11, 2001.

    The terrorist attacks that day changed everything. The FBI’s attention turned to other pressing issues.”

    So that explains 10 years of delay. (Irony alert: rape really is a form of terrorism.)

    Back in the 80s, it was still news (and highly debatable) that you could POSSIBLY be raped by someone you’d gone on a date with. People felt just sure a woman would somehow sense her date was a rapist long before he got her alone, or that rapists would never look presentable enough to get dates. A lot of people still don’t seem to grasp that they dress nice, smell nice, act nice, hold jobs, have wives and girlfriends, have kids, etc. It’s a cover for who they really are, of course, but it’s a cover that works great as long as everybody keeps assuming rapists are somehow detectable at first glance.

  6. Casey says

    Another thing, besides not covering stuff like frottage and other things that fall under the “sexual assault” umbrella, the definition still basically says “rape=penetration”. I guess that means men who’ve been raped by women w/o being penetrated by anything don’t count. 😐

  7. says


    Hmm, that’s a great catch, and I think you’re right. I read it and thought, “I’d like it to just say ‘has sexual contact’ without consent.” I know then they’d have to detail what constitutes sexual contact.

    But you know, with kids it’s far more extensive. Like, IIUC, showing a child porn is legally either molestation or “lewd and lascivious acts with a minor” or “child endangerment” in various states.

    I don’t really care if they call some things “rape” and other things “sexual assault” so long as those of us who can be bothered to follow the law are in some way protected from these predators. I don’t even care about the punishment aspect of prison or whatever – I just want them to be prevented from hurting others, and that’s the goal I want law enforcement and govt working toward.

  8. says


    Exactly what I was going to say. PIV sex without the man’s consent is still not rape under this definition. :/

    Still, I’m excited that we’ve come so much, much further with this. I mean, the new definition admits that a man can be raped. That’s a good start. :)

  9. Casey says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Not to mention PIM (m=mouth) without consent doesn’t count.

    AND it doesn’t cover rape via nagging/coercion.
    OR rape under false pretenses.
    Or any other more complex, nitty-gritty things.

    But hey, at least we’ve got THIS one. (*sigh* about damn time)

  10. says


    “Oral penetration” is mentioned, so that covers PIM. But on the others, I read it the same way you do.

    The next problem we need to overcome is the idea that it’s somehow worse to forcibly rape somebody than it is to extort sex through threats. The “nagging” issue… while I’d be happy to see the law address that, there are bigger problems underlying it: i.e., that women feel so disempowered to say no that they would have sex they don’t want to in hopes he’ll go away after that. And that men feel that’s an okay way to obtain sex. We’ll have to correct those things culturally, because I can’t see trials being able to do a great job of addressing a “he said, she said” in which she did NOT say no but he should’ve understood she meant no.

    After that, I’d like to tackle the idea that any religion actually has the right to say marrying someone=consent to sex at absolutely any time, forever. We don’t allow religions to promote murder. Why must we allow them to promote rape?

  11. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler: “Oral penetration” is mentioned, so that covers PIM. But on the others, I read it the same way you do.

    Oh dear, when I was referring to PIM, I meant it in the context of the “male rape victims who HAVEN’T been penetrated”, ie, getting a blowjob without consent. Ugh, this reeks of “WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ” doesn’t it? >_>

  12. says


    LOL, no, we’re just trying to find the flaws in the new wording. It seems to me it leaves out ANY possibility of a woman raping a man, unless she penetrates him with something. I don’t see a way for PIV female on male rape to qualify here. I wonder if the omission was deliberate, or if they are bafflingly unaeware if happens.

  13. Quib says


    “what about teh menz?” is only an issue when it’s brought up as a way to interrupt or discourage the discussion of women’s issues. (although, as with any part of language, there’s no way to be an authority on how anyone else uses it).
    In this case I think it’s an important part of the discussion to consider all aspects of what is and isn’t included in the new definition.

    The new definition is good news, except for the part where it’s horribly depressing that it’s only now that it’s changing. “carnal knowledge” that was part of federal law until just now.

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