Where earlier this year the GOP was attempting to severely narrow the definition of rape to serve their anti-abortion agenda, the FBI has (finally) recognized the need to update their own archaic definition. On Oct. 18, a subcommittee will begin the work of responding to years of pressure and criticism from feminist and women’s rights groups to expand this narrow definition. It’s about damn time.
The current official definition of rape used by the FBI to collect data for the Uniform Crime Reporting Program reads: “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” It was first defined and has not been altered since 1929.
As pointed out over at Ms. magazine, the world has changed drastically since then. Expanding the definition of rape is almost literally the best thing since sliced bread, as it was introduced to the market only a year before the current definition was established, and was selling for nine cents a loaf. The definition of rape has hardly kept up with inflation.
Akiba Solomon at Colorlines notes that this “definition straight-up excludes the rape of men. It also discounts forced oral and anal sex and an assault with an object.” It sends the message, says Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice to the Times, that “if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”
This leads to massive under-reporting (on top of the reluctance of rape victims to come forward) which in turn “warps the public’s perception of the scope of the problem” states Nathan Pippenger for The New Republic and “it also leads to an insufficient allocation of resources to organizations that address it.”
The new FBI definition needs to broaden the definition of rape to include all of these heinous violations of body autonomy, but I have a suggestion for where it needs to start. It should state, very plainly at the beginning, the following: Rape is not sex. Rape is violence. As a society, we’re still not clear on this. For too many, rape is the result of uncontrollable sexual attraction. It’s to be worn as a badge of honor that someone found you worthy of raping. And it’s likely that you invited your own rape by dressing provocatively or flirting too aggressively. It’s that type of thinking that makes SlutWalks necessary.
I find it hard to believe that rape would be used as such a pervasive weapon of war if the motivation were purely sexual. It would serve us well to use a definition of rape that tells us “rape is an act of violence and domination and anger. It uses sexual acts including penetration as weapons,” as seen on the Rapecrisis.org.uk website. But on the whole, we see rape very differently. And wrongly.
Our understanding of rape is so juvenile, we actually believe that women can prevent being raped by wearing more clothing. That’s insane. And that isn’t just a lay person’s misunderstanding of the dynamics of rape. Only days before the SlutWalk NYC, the Wall Street Journal reported that NYPD was warning women in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn about their attire attracting the attention of a serial rapist. This is the actual advice being given out by law enforcement. It’s the same type of rhetoric that prompted the original SlutWalk in Toronto when women were advised to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to remain safe from rape.
It doesn’t work that way. It never has, and it never will. The way we perceive rape affects the way we legislate and prosecute rape, and so long as we support a culture that views rape as a crime of passion rather than a violent act, we put ourselves in a position of not protecting those most vulnerable.
Vice President Joe Biden has made the issue of violence against women a priority of his while in office and his message has been on point. It goes a long way toward helping us all understand this very simple truth: Rape is not sex. Rape is violence. Let’s start there and see if we can’t begin having an honest discussion on how to end rape altogether.