Scottish author Andrew Lang once said of a man: “He uses statistics like a drunk uses lamp-posts, more for support than illumination.”
Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is supporting its annual rape statistics with a rather archaic, 80-year-old definition critics have long argued needed to catch up with the times. Rape is defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” reports the New York Times.
That definition may soon be updated by the FBI, which will take up discussion on it this month, the Times reported Sept. 28.
Why does it matter?
It’s a matter of honesty. The FBI’s report is known as one of the best indicators of crime in the United States (and its latest report shows crime dropping in America again). If the police jurisdictions report rape to the FBI using a more modern definition, they won’t include those cases.
The Times sums up the what the FBI leaves out (Blogger’s warning: some readers might find this terminology disturbing):
(The FBI’s definition) … critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting.
I invited Claire Bradley, a chief deputy of the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office — and the current chair of Kitsap SAIVS (Special Assault Investigations and Victim’s Services) — to share her thoughts about updating the language. Bradley was also deputy prosecutor in the county’s special assault unit for eight years.
“I think, across the board, anyone who deals with sexual assault crimes would agree this is a good thing. Locally, our law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocates already do a great job of responding to all types of sexual assault, not just the ones that would be classified as “rape” by these federal statistics. But, to the community as a whole, the classification of what is “rape” by federal statistical standards is absolutely misleading.
And, to me, the most important factor in this reclassification is that our victim advocacy programs rely on statistical data for grant funding. Our victim advocates serve so many more victims than the statistics would suggest, and so their funding is based on false numbers. I would love to see them be able to report actual, true numbers and receive more funding, that is actually representative of how many people they serve.”
Perhaps with an updated definition, the statistics provided by the FBI will become more illuminating for all of us.