Friday, October 21, 2011

A Small Blow Against Rape Culture

Good news, everyone! The FBI has updated its woefully archaic definition of rape ("the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will") to something a little more realistic:

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 is good news for a bunch of reasons:

  • The FBI now recognizes that men can be raped.
  • "Carnal knowledge" was a bit ambiguous, and could be interpreted to mean vaginal rape only. This new definition explicitly recognizes anal and oral rape.
  • Most importantly (in my opinion), this new definition identifies the absence of consent as the key element in rape rather than force. Now victims who were drugged, blackmailed, threatened, or otherwise coerced are also recognized by the FBI as rape victims.

While this update in definition is a huge step forward for the reasons I cited above, it is not without some remaining problems. The most glaring issue is that this definition only recognizes penetrative rape. If an aggressor envelopes the penis of an unconscious person with their vagina, that would not be considered rape under the above definition. There are a number of other non-penetrative sexual acts that should be considered rape when perpetrated on a non-consenting individual, none of which will be recognized by the FBI's new definition.

So, good on you, FBI, for recognizing that it's consent that matters. Now let's work on recognizing non-consensual, non-penetrative sexual acts as rape, too.

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