“This is about more than a definition. It is about how seriously we take this as a country"
January 6, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Almost one year after Congressional Republicans tried to limit the definition of rape to only include "force" (previously), the Department of Justice is redefining the term--but this time to to expand it dramatically:
The outdated definition that has been governing national rape statistics since 1929, “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” has been updated to "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.” According to Susan D. Carbon, director of the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the previous definition “excluded an untold number of victims.” For the first time, men will be included in national rape statistics, as well as those raped while unable to give consent due to intoxication or other mental and physical incapacity.
posted by zombieflanders (47 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
About time! Seriously though, this is good news.
posted by peacheater at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


!
posted by Navelgazer at 10:40 AM on January 6, 2012


Well bugger me (so to speak) - an intelligent sounding definition of rape.

Obviously, this definition will include rape of men by men, but does anyone know if it's tackled the issue of rape of a man by a woman?

(I'd check the link myself, but either their site is a white page or my internet has gone all wobbly again...)
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 10:40 AM on January 6, 2012


This seems pretty great!
posted by MadamM at 10:41 AM on January 6, 2012


I never would have thought that news about rape would make me smile a bit.
posted by Silly Ashles at 10:42 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is great, but I bet we'll see a Fox News rape statistics graph showing the rape spike under Obama.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 10:42 AM on January 6, 2012 [70 favorites]


This news actually improved my day considerably. Thanks for sharing it!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2012


Wow. That's good to hear. If they're going to do more tracking of male-on-male rape, can they take a closer look at prison rape, too?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not only is this fantastic news, but opposition to it is a perfect litmus test for who needs to be strung up by the ankles.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


disambiguity in effect
posted by philip-random at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2012


Amazing this happened now and not decades ago. Even more amazing is considering it could have not happened for decades more.
posted by zippy at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


can they take a closer look at prison rape, too?

Previously.
posted by John Cohen at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2012


This new definition pretty closely mirrors most of the state penal codes with which I'm familiar. So I wouldn't think of it as a "dramatic expansion" or even a "redefinition" as much as a long-overdue correction.
posted by quiet coyote at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2012


Obviously, this definition will include rape of men by men, but does anyone know if it's tackled the issue of rape of a man by a woman?

Ouch. I'd been very happy about this news the first couple times I'd heard it, because I knew that it changed the definition to admit that men could also be raped--but the specifics of this definition as I see it (orifices and all) really don't seem to cover rape of man by woman if it's PIV sex. And I'm kinda sensitive about this topic because I'm very close to a male rape victim whose perp was a woman. I wonder if anyone has commented publicly on that omission.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously, this definition will include rape of men by men, but does anyone know if it's tackled the issue of rape of a man by a woman?

Seems to me that the old definition was flawed because it explicitly stated that only a female can be a victim. I don't know that even the old rule, let alone the new rule, had an explicit requirement that the perpetrator be male. In the absence of any explicit rule, I would assume that perpetrators aren't limited to one gender. In practice they'll be overwhelmingly male, but that's another issue.
posted by John Cohen at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2012


My reading is that it does cover men because nowhere in the quoted passage does it require that the "victim" be the person being penetrated.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2012


My reading is that it does cover men because nowhere in the quoted passage does it require that the "victim" be the person being penetrated.

You may be right, now that I look at it again, although my initial reading seemed to indicate an implicit notion of the victim as penetratee.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2012


"penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object...without the consent of the victim"

Since the victim is not specified, I hope that in the case of rape of a man by a woman, that the man would obviously qualify as the victim.
posted by sawdustbear at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd say the greater emphasis is on the victim as the one who doesn't give consent.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:58 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've heard rumors of this happening, mostly in the vein of "TSA won't be able to stick their fingers in your vagina anymore when frisking you." But I never thought it would happen.

Then I heard on NPR this morning that it actually changed. I was made happy, since forcing sex on someone just isn't cool.

Then it dawned on me how bad the previous definition really was. Unless I understood the reporting wrong (which is totally possible because I was a bit preoccupied buying stuff for school), it seems that cases where the victim couldn't give consent weren't really rape in the by the book sense.

Be it an actual change to the law-ness of things or just a rewording to make the definition officially match what we all understand rape to be, this change is long overdue.
posted by theichibun at 11:05 AM on January 6, 2012


This new definition pretty closely mirrors most of the state penal codes with which I'm familiar. So I wouldn't think of it as a "dramatic expansion" or even a "redefinition" as much as a long-overdue correction.

It actually seems more like a paperwork reduction notice. Instead of local authorities having to track two numbers for reporting, now they just have to track one.
posted by smackfu at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It actually seems more like a paperwork reduction notice. Instead of local authorities having to track two numbers for reporting, now they just have to track one.

As long as it brought us to the right place, I don't care what the route used was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is really good.
posted by Put the kettle on at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2012


"One in five women and one in 71 men are raped during their lifetime, as Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett noted" -- I wonder which set of stats Jarrett is using? There are a lot of contradictory sets out there.

For instance, RAINN publishes statistics suggesting about one in six women over the age of twelve are raped, and one in thirty-three men. But they don't track anyone under the age of twelve. So you have to go over to the NCVC to look at those stats: one in four girls and one in six boys (in the US) are sexually abused at some point before the age of eighteen. So if you try to combine those two sets of data, you're getting information that at a minimum one in four American women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and one in six American men.

The categorization problems (women raping men, women raping women, etc.) contribute to the lack of good data on how common rape (in all its forms) really is. Being more inclusive about the umbrella of rape will hopefully make it easier to compile better information.

The problem I saw was with this language: "oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim" (emphasis mine)

That doesn't appear to account for rapes in which the victim is forced to perform oral sex on a woman (not penetration), or forced to submit to a rapist performing unwanted oral sex on the victim (still not penetration). Or am I reading it wrong?
posted by brina at 11:19 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


No I think you're reading that right -- the language seems to restrict rape to being about penetration of some orifice with something else, though either the penetrator or penetratee could presumably be the victim. So non-penetrative cases are not included, perhaps intentionally.
posted by peacheater at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2012


Ah. Now, this is one of those hopechangey things I'd hoped to see out of the Obama administration. I wish it wouldn't have taken 3 years, but I'm certainly not complaining; it's a pretty big accomplishment.
posted by schmod at 11:40 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This seems like a good move, but it's not a change in sexual assault laws--it's simply a change in how they are reported to federal agencies that compile national crime statistics. Nothing that was legal before is now illegal as a result of this change, and vice versa.
posted by yoink at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is in no way a pun, but fuck yeah.
posted by slackdog at 11:46 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


No I think you're reading that right -- the language seems to restrict rape to being about penetration of some orifice with something else, though either the penetrator or penetratee could presumably be the victim. So non-penetrative cases are not included, perhaps intentionally.

Yeah, I imagine that the exclusion of non-penetrative sexual assault was intentional. States laws are hard to summarize, since there's a wide range of terminology and the crime tends to be broken up into more sub-offenses than most other crimes, but in general(I think) the term rape is reserved for penetrative sexual assault.

The state I know best, Maryland, has Rape in the First and Second Degree, and Sexual Offense in the First-Fourth Degree with everything except vaginal intercourse being in the sexual offense category rather than rape. Of course, Sexual Offense in the First Degree also carries a potential life sentence so the difference is more semantic than practical.

If you're curious, the lowest on that list, Sexual Offense 4th, is a misdemeanor that basically covers any kind of non-consensual sex stuff, but I've mostly seen used to prosecute non-consensual groping, which is also second degree assault, a crime with a higher maximum sentence.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That doesn't appear to account for rapes in which the victim is forced to perform oral sex on a woman (not penetration), or forced to submit to a rapist performing unwanted oral sex on the victim (still not penetration). Or am I reading it wrong?

Victim being forced to perform oral sex on a woman wouldn't be covered under this specific statute, although forcing a female victim to submit to unwanted oral sex would fall under "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object".
posted by kafziel at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2012


Wonderful news!

Can anyone explain why the GOP was against it?
posted by zarq at 12:33 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That doesn't appear to account for rapes in which the victim is forced to perform oral sex on a woman (not penetration), or forced to submit to a rapist performing unwanted oral sex on the victim (still not penetration).

brina, I would argue it still does, so long as the above arguments about the ambiguity of victim/penetration direction are preserved.

Forced fellation involved penetration of a mouth. Forced cunnilingus is likely to involve vaginal penetration.

In practice, it would take a precedent-setting case to establish this interpretation, of course.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:34 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe related to limiting abortions?
posted by smackfu at 12:34 PM on January 6, 2012


zarq - yeah, it was tied to the language in the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal spending on abortions except in certain cases. Including rape.
posted by rtha at 12:36 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone explain why the GOP was against it?

While we have been able to predict the voting patterns of soulless and dead-eyed flesh-sacs full of undifferentiated mucus posing as human beings, even our top scientists have been unable to explain the reasons. The reigning theory is their biological systems achieve spontaneous orgasm by (and only by) speaking out against all that is good.
posted by griphus at 12:42 PM on January 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Not being snarky, as I think this is a terrific and long-overdue development, but I wonder: If my girlfriend and I get drunk together and have sloppy drunk sex, have we just raped each other? (Actually, re-reading the definition, it looks like she would have to penetrate my body, which ummm could happen...) Or does the fact that we're *both* drunk make it Not Rape? (That wouldn't make sense to me either.) Or is it now technically illegal to ever have penetrative sex with somebody who is drunk? (Seems an overbroad definition.)

I'm genuinely curious how this would play out, as it seems to be a situation not properly addressed.
posted by LordSludge at 12:43 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone explain why the GOP was against it?

Short answer? Their unbridled contempt for women, usually expressed in terms of how perfectly dreadful it would be for a man to be falsely accused of rape when really all he did was have sex with her unconscious form after a few too many drinks.

Long answer? Actually, the same thing, but half-page addendum about their especially-strong contempt for poor and minority women.
posted by Mayor West at 1:05 PM on January 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not being snarky, as I think this is a terrific and long-overdue development, but I wonder: If my girlfriend and I get drunk together and have sloppy drunk sex, have we just raped each other? (Actually, re-reading the definition, it looks like she would have to penetrate my body, which ummm could happen...) Or does the fact that we're *both* drunk make it Not Rape? (That wouldn't make sense to me either.) Or is it now technically illegal to ever have penetrative sex with somebody who is drunk? (Seems an overbroad definition.)

Nothing has been made illegal by this, it's purely a reporting definition for the purposes of gathering statistics.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:10 PM on January 6, 2012


Or is it now technically illegal to ever have penetrative sex with somebody who is drunk?

This is not a change in rape law; this is a change in federal information gathering procedures.

From TFA, which you should R:
Although many local and state law-enforcement agencies were already using more modern definitions, they would nonetheless send far less comprehensive data to national agencies because of the narrow definition.
So if you and your girlfriend have sex—sloppy or otherwise—while drunk, and one of you reports it as rape, that report would now be counted as such in the statistics the local police provide to the FBI.

If this is an actual concern in your relationship, you have bigger problems than can be solved by more-accurate crime statistics.
posted by Zozo at 1:12 PM on January 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


"no matter how slight"

There goes the mico-penis defense.
posted by stbalbach at 1:13 PM on January 6, 2012


'bout goddamn time.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2012


This is not a change in rape law; this is a change in federal information gathering procedures.

Ah, thanks for the clarification.

If this is an actual concern in your relationship, you have bigger problems than can be solved by more-accurate crime statistics.

Nope, the question was hypothetical. And I got 99 problems but sloppy-drunk sex ain't one.
posted by LordSludge at 2:35 PM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The laws defining rape in Sweden are even more expansive than this proposal and the practical drawback has been that you get very many allegations of rape, but the overall rate of conviction drops dramatically. Thus has Sweden been accused by the morons at Amnesty International of offering "impunity to rapists."

So as matter of public policy you get a mixed message: laws against rape are more expansive, but apparently more permissive.

The DOJ proposal, whilst entirely sensible and worthy of adoption, would seem equally likely to draw the ire of the statistically-impaired with the predictable result of one step forward and two steps back.
posted by three blind mice at 3:25 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, Sweden's expansive definition of rape is the basis for the allegations against Wikileak's Julian Assange. Under Swedish law, Mr. Assange would appear to be plainly guilty of rape and should not escape prosecution.

If one, on the other hand, is sympathetic to Mr. Assange and considers the charges against him as "trumped up", one might consider that a more expansive definition of rape such as proposed by the DOJ could be misused for political (or other) reasons.
posted by three blind mice at 3:39 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good.
posted by Auguris at 7:30 PM on January 6, 2012


If one read the link (or even a handful of comments here), one might consider that this has nothing do with a change in criminal law, Federal or otherwise, TBM, now wouldn't one?
posted by joe lisboa at 8:00 PM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


!
posted by _paegan_ at 2:53 AM on January 7, 2012


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