WASHINGTON -- FBI Director Robert Mueller has accepted a recommendation to update the way the law enforcement agency defines rape, telling a Senate panel that the change is expected to go into effect in the spring.
Currently, the FBI defines rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." The definition has not been updated since 1929.
This definition is narrower than the one used by many police departments around the country, and women's rights advocates say it leads to the under-counting of thousands of sexual assaults each year.
On Dec. 6, an FBI advisory board voted overwhelmingly to expand the definition, sending the final decision to Mueller.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Mueller about the panel's recommendation during a hearing on Wednesday, stating, "I know the FBI is currently working to update the definition of rape for the Uniform Crime Report. Why is that important, to update that?"
"That definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable -- fully applicable -- to the types of crimes that it should cover," replied Mueller. "And as I think you're aware, the advisory committee for NCIC in the statistics, developing the statistics, approved the change to that definition. And my expectation is it will go into effect sometime this spring."
The new terminology says 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."
This new definition expands the old one by taking out the requirement of a "forcible" assault and the restriction that the attack must be toward a woman. It also now includes non-vaginal/penile rape and rape by a blood relative.
"We appreciate the thorough analysis and vetting process done by the FBI's advisory process. Police chiefs throughout the country have been consulted and agree. Now that we will have accurate data, we need resources appropriately allocated to fight this hideous crime," said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women's Law Project. A decade ago, the Women's Law Project began a campaign to change the definition of rape used by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Report.
The FBI's current narrow definition of rape has created complications for law enforcement agencies, which can't report all of the rapes they prosecute for inclusion in federal statistics if their state or locality has a broader definition.
For example, in 2010, the Chicago Police Department reported nearly 1,400 sexual assaults. None of them, however, appeared in the federal crime report because they didn't fit the federal government's definition of rape.
"We prosecute by one criteria, but we report by another criteria," Steve Anderson, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, told The New York Times. "The only people who have a true picture of what's going on are the people in the sex-crimes unit."