UCR Program Changes Definition of Rape

Includes All Victims and Omits Requirement of Physical Force

In December 2011, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, approved revisions to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s 80-year-old definition of rape. As approved, the UCR Program’s definition of rape is “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.” The revised definition is the collaborative effort of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Policy Board (APB), which is made up of representatives from all major law enforcement organizations, and staff from the national UCR Program with input from the Office of the Vice President of the United States, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, and victim advocacy groups, such as the Women’s Law Project.

The UCR Program collects data about sex offenses through two reporting systems: the traditional Summary Reporting System (SRS) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Currently, the rape definition change applies only to the SRS since the NIBRS already captures the broader sex offense information reflected in the new definition. However, the APB’s recommendation to remove the term “forcible” from all sex offenses in the UCR Program applies to both systems.

“This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. Proponents of the new definition state the changes will broaden the scope of the previously narrow SRS definition by capturing gender neutrality, the penetration of any bodily orifice, penetration by any object or body part, and offenses in which physical force is not involved. Now instances in which offenders sodomize victims of the same gender will be counted as rape for statistical purposes. 

Once the FBI begins collecting data using the new definition of rape in January 2013, UCR Program officials expect that the number of reported rapes will rise. According to David Cuthbertson, FBI Assistant Director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, “As we implement this change, the FBI is confident that the number of victims of this heinous crime will be more accurately reflected in national crime statistics.”

In the months to come, the UCR Program will advise participating law enforcement agencies of the programming changes necessary to capture the more comprehensive rape data. Although the UCR definition of rape may differ from definitions in state and local laws, the FBI expects law enforcement agencies to use it when reporting data to the UCR Program. Those totals will then be published in the annual UCR publication Crime in the United States and maintained in the national UCR database.