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The FBI changed its definition of rape, but some states still don't recognize male victims

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The FBI changed its definition of rape, but some states still don't recognize male victims

WATCH  | The FBI's definition of "rape" has changed to be more inclusive, but some states still don't recognize male rape as rape. 

Warning: Adult content

It used to be in some states that if you were raped and happened to be a guy, well, your rape didn't really count.

States have different laws and penalties on the books for the crime.

In 2012, in an effort to get accurate crime stats in the United States, the FBI updated its definition to include male victims.

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object ...
FBI's updated definition of rape, 2012

New definition

The FBI's new definition read:

"The 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 consent of the victim."

The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.
FBI's definition of rape before 2012

Old definition

Before that, how did the FBI define rape?


"The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will."


Does something sound off about that definition? It only recognizes female victims, and only vaginal intercourse, not oral, anal, etc.

Leaving men out

This definition is used by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting unit for statistical reasons only. So if a male rape happens in, say Columbia, South Carolina, the Columbia Police Department reports it as rape to the FBI. 

But according to South Carolina state law, it isn't "rape." It's just sodomy.

So while that guy's rape is a statistic, he can't press charges for rape.

How the definition affects victims

James Landrith was raped by a woman in 1992 in North Carolina when he was 19 years old.

"If you keep telling people men can't be raped, and they don't disclose because you tell them it can't happen, you shouldn't be surprised that they're not disclosing," said Landrith.

But even if he had reported it, it wouldn't have mattered. Under the state's and the FBI's definition of rape at the time, his rape wasn't a rape.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.31.56 PM.png

Because Landrith was raped by a woman, his rape doesn't fall under some states' definition of "rape," where it's relegated to requiring vaginal intercourse. The FBI recently changed its definition to accommodate cases like his.

How the FBI uses the data

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting unit started collecting data on how many rapes (and other crimes) there are every year in the U.S. in 1927.

"Prior to this change in the definition, no change was reported when it was female on male, male on male, when instruments were used, sodomy," said Christopher Nicholas, the FBI executive responsible for the Uniform Crime Reporting system.

Who submits data to the FBI

About 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily report data on crimes "brought to their attention."

The thing is, most rape survivors don't report it to the authorities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only about 15 to 35 percent of victims report their rape to the police.

So there are all these rapes that are unaccounted for.

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Landrith is  a survivor advocate and speaks to multiple people everyday who would rather not go to the authorities because they're afraid they won't be taken seriously.

Different definitions

At the end of the day, how the FBI defines rape doesn't really matter to a victim of rape like Landrith. What matters is how the state he lives in defines it and prosecutes rape crimes.

Mary Fan is a prosecutor who has dealt with sexual assault cases throughout her career.

"The changes in the FBI's definition, now that's for statistical reporting purposes," Fan said. "That's not state law."

State laws are all over the place

Take the infamous Brock Turner case, for instance. The fact that turner was in California and used his fingers instead of his penis to penetrate the victim played a major role in how he was convicted. If you were to ask the FBI, what Turner did was rape. According to California's penal code, however, it could only be prosecuted as sexual assault, not rape.

"And that ties into our controversies over our vision of sexuality and how it happens," Fan said.

Aligning with the FBI

After the Turner case, legislators successfully pushed for California to update its definition of rape to mirror the FBI's new definition, which is inclusive of all genders and broadens the scope of objects used.

All this makes it easier to prosecute rape in the state.

Now, 43 states have done something similar, but six states still use the old definition.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.35.43 PM.png

The states highlighted in green still have a definition of rape that defines it as requiring "vaginal intercourse" or happening to a "female."

States affect the stats

But since all states still aren't on the same page when it comes to their legal definition, it makes it hard for the FBI to know how many rapes happened in each state, and in turn, the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control will tell you about 2.4 million people were raped last year in the U.S., based on a phone survey it conducted.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.26.22 PM.png

According to the CDC, 1.6 percent of women in the United States experience rape every year.

Differing stats

The FBI will tell you 124,057 people were raped last year. That's because the FBI only takes into account rapes that were reported to the police, which is about one-third of cases.

All that underreporting? There are a lot of reasons for that.

"Sometimes perps are long gone," Landrith said. "The evidence is way in the past, and it's going to be a lot of emotional devastation for probably no end result."

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The FBI only recently (2013) started taking into account male victims of rape and female victims of female rape and it only tracks those that are reported, which is why its number is so much lower.

So while today Landrith's assault would be considered rape by the FBI, he still has no legal recourse in North Carolina because the state's penal code still defines rape as requiring vaginal intercourse.

"We're being silenced and told, 'It wasn't real. It doesn't count,'" said Landrith. "'It's not rape rape.' I hate that phrase."

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