"The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will."
"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."
Among the rapes that were previously omitted under the old definition and are now included are penetration of any other orifice than the vagina, rapes committed without force, those where the victim was incapacitated or unable to give consent due to any factor including alcohol, drugs or a mental disability. Rapes where a foreign object was used. And men. Rapes committed on men were never counted in the official FBI statistics.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime and 1 in 71 men. Yet in 2011 the FBI counted only 84,767 rapes as having occurred in America. Their method left many victims unaccounted for and unrecognized, something a rape victim who is already struggling with society's attitudes towards them should never be made to feel by law enforcement. It was effectively saying to the victims that their rape never occurred.
This change, which has been requested by women's groups for over a decade now, will have a profound impact on the statistical analysis of the issue and it's related funding, reporting levels and hopefully law enforcement's attitudes in general.
Underreporting has long been a problem for this crime. When society and law enforcement consider your rape to not really be a rape it does not inspire confidence to come forward. Hopefully the new official definition of rape will change attitudes and understanding of the crime, especially among law enforcement and the legal avenues of recourse.
The most important change will be in finally recognizing how widespread of a problem this is and assigning funding and other resources to fighting it or to simply providing support for those affected. Rape crisis centres were forced to use the official FBI statistics in applying for funding. It is hoped that a big part of that change will be providing resources for men who are victims of rape, or violence in general, an area that has long been ignored and underfunded. There are very few resources out there for these men who often have to bear the shame and guilt associated with the crime on their own, something no victim should have to do.
The 1 in 5 statistic has been one that has been questioned by detractors given that it comes in part from self-reporting and surveys. With this change we will be able to give a true image of the problem and provide actual numbers which cannot be disputed.
Finally, this shows that activism works. Although women's groups have been asking for this change for a decade, it was only in the last few months that a large push was made, including a petition entitled "All Rape is Rape" being signed and forwarded to the FBI and meetings by feminist organizations and police chiefs in Washington. It is heartening to see the efforts of these groups finally being recognized and appreciated.
(It would be very nice if there were no lewd comments made about women or their sexual organs in this post. I can't believe I even have to request that but there it is)