Redefining Rape

For decades, victim advocacy groups have been demanding a broader definition of rape so that more sexual assault victims can also be considered rape victims. In the past few years, their demands have been backed up and heeded by prominent leaders like Vice President Joe Biden, which has resulted in the modernization of the definition of rape. Attorney General Eric Holder announced an updated definition of rape on Jan. 6, 2012. The antiquated 85-year-old definition used by the FBI was changed from “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” to “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.” This definition will achieve the goal of victim advocacy groups and allow for more sexual assault victims to also be considered rape victims while bringing the legal defection of rape into the 21st century.

For the past 85 years, rape was narrowly characterized by the forcible male penetration of a female vagina. There was a serious disconnect between the public definition of rape and the legal one. Rape is commonly considered to be the forced sexual engagement of a non-consenting individual which encompasses many more situations that just the forced penetration of a woman. The archaic definition employed by law enforcement excluded male victims completely, which consequently prevented sexually abused boys to be considered rape victims. Nonetheless, the old definition of rape did not just exclude men; it excluded some women as well. Women who were raped orally or even by other women were not counted as rape victims due to the narrow definition. Furthermore, women were not only excluded from being victims but also from being rapists. While female rape of men is not as widely reported, it does happen and women should be persecuted for rape since rape is not gender specific. The new definition will allow victims and perpetrators of rape to be members of either gender.

While the old definition of rape was sexist, the sexual assaults of both male and female victims were not ignored. The police force still put considerable effort into catching sexual predators to prevent future attacks regardless of the fact that they were not considered rape. Sexual assault was, and still is, a serious offense with varying levels of severity. The criminal codes involving the investigation of sexual assault cases will not be affected by this new definition of rape. Despite that fact, the broadened definition is still significant since the new definition will lead to a more comprehensive federal rape statistic by providing the country with more accurate numbers. The higher and more accurate rape statistic will hopefully result in the federal government allocating more resources for law enforcement to prevent and police sex crimes. The updated definition may not impact the intensity of investigations, but it should garner more resources for the investigations, thus leading to an increase in resources for sexual assault victims.

The impact of the modernized definition may seem insignificant since the legal definition will only impact federal rape statistics and monetary allocation of government funds, but that is not the case. The updated definition will not only bring about more resources for sexual assault victims, but it will also demonstrate the need for legal definitions and laws to keep up with the modern world. The current modernization of legal definitions demonstrates the public’s frustration with the archaic practices of the government.

While the government does not have a federal policy concerning cyber-bullying, it does have a law against garishness. Currently, Californians can be fined up to $250 for leaving their Christmas lights up past the second of February since it is considered tasteless. The government needs to have laws and definitions on the books to protect society from modern dangers rather than antiquated ones such as tawdriness.

The updated definition of rape is a sign that the government is attempting to, albeit rather slowly, update their policies, and it is a step in the right direction.


Stephanie Cheng is a first-year chemistry major. She can be reached at