Monday, October 3, 2011

UCR Rape Definition Is Archaic, Inadequate And Stupid

There was a piece in the New York Times last week that highlighted a huge problem in the FBI's 80+ year old Uniform Crime Reports program. The problem comes in the way that the UCR program defines rape. That is:

Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

This archaic definition ultimately means a male suspect penetrating a female victim's vagina with his penis using the force or threat of force to overcome the victim's lack of consent. It does not include any other combination of victims, sex acts, etc. Consequently, the majority of sexual assault cases reported to a law enforcement agency are never counted as part of UCR crime statistics.

When the FBI's UCR program was created and these definitions created Bonnie & Clyde were on the loose, Jim Crow laws were still on the books, women had only had the right to vote for 10 years and in many states, marital rape was not illegal. Since that time, society's definition of what constitutes a sexual assault has evolved considerably. The New York Times piece speaks to the effect this definition has had.

“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice. “It’s the message that we’re sending to victims, and if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”

Steve Anderson, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said that the F.B.I.’s definition created a double standard for police departments.

“We prosecute by one criteria, but we report by another criteria,” Chief Anderson said. “The only people who have a true picture of what’s going on are the people in the sex-crimes unit.”

Even many police officers don't understand the criteria by which UCR defines rape. I had a veteran detective from my agency contact me and ask where were all the cases she had been investigating went after she looked at our UCR stats. She knew that her unit had investigated significantly more cases than were listed in our agency's UCR report. I could only shrug my shoulders and explain to her the asinine definition of rape in the UCR program.

The New York Times article cites a Police Executive Research Forum survey of police agencies where 80% of them said the UCR definition of rape was inadequate. Thankfully, it appears that momentum is building within the FBI's UCR program to change this definition. The current definition is archaic, ignorant and demeaning to the tens of thousands of victim's whose crimes were not counted last year. It's time to change it.

Now when the change happens it's not going to be fun to see what our sex assault stats really are but if you're going to fix a problem, you have to know just how bad it is first.

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