Thursday, January 24, 2013

Change of rape definition will increase reports, encompass more victims

The year 2013 will bring a large increase in the number of reported rapes in Kansas City. This is not because more rapes will take place. It’s because the FBI has made a much-needed change to its Uniform Crime Reporting system that changes the definition of what rape is, rightfully encompassing many more victims of sexual assault.

Since 1927, the FBI has defined “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” The U.S. Department of Justice blog called this definition “outdated and narrow,” and we agree. It left no room for male victims or victims of sodomy. Our police department investigated these cases, but they never were included in the official rape statistics.

The new FBI definition of rape is: “The 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.”

All crimes that fall under the above definition began being counted as rape in Kansas City and throughout the nation on Jan. 1, 2013. So when this year comes to an end, and we compare its crime statistics to 2012, it likely will appear as though rapes increased drastically. While we can’t predict how many crimes will be committed, I want you to be aware that it is extremely unlikely rapes will double, as the numbers could appear.

Consider what it would look like if we had used the new rape definition in 2012. Through mid-November 2012 (we’re still finalizing more recent stats), Kansas City had 243 rapes according to the old rape definition. But under the new definition, the city had 558. The new definition simply includes all victims of sexual assault, as it should, and gives us a more accurate view of the extent of the crime in Kansas City. This will not change the the thorough manner in which we investigate any of these cases, just the way we report them.

The Justice Department blog also notes some other important changes the new definition creates:

"For the first time ever, the new definition includes any gender of victim and perpetrator, not just women being raped by men. It also recognizes that rape with an object can be as traumatic as penile/vaginal rape. This definition also includes instances in which the victim is unable to give consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.

"Furthermore, because many rapes are facilitated by drugs or alcohol, the new definition recognizes that a victim can be incapacitated and thus unable to consent because of ingestion of drugs or alcohol. Similarly, a victim may be legally incapable of consent because of age. The ability of the victim to give consent must be determined in accordance with individual state statutes. Physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent."

We want you to be aware of these changes now so panic doesn’t arise this time next year when the numbers look much higher. We are pleased with the inclusivity of the new definition and all those who worked toward changing it, including victim advocates and several organizations of which I’m a member, like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major City Chiefs and Police Executive Research Forum. It was high time we recognized all victims of this heinous crime.
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