When a rape isn't a rape: FBI statistics ignore many cities' rapes


Photo illustration courtesy of The Advocay Project, via Flickr.

Story by The Takeaway. Listen to the above audio for a complete report.

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Sometimes, if you ask the FBI, a rape isn't a rape.

In Chicago, the 1400 rapes that were reported to Chicago Police last year are not considered valid by the FBI, because the city of Chicago uses a definition of rape that — while considered more correct by victim's rights advocates — doesn't meet the FBI's definition of rape, the New York Times reported.

But rather than try to determine which rapes do meet its definition, the FBI merely throws all 1400 out when it releases its annual crime reports. In other communities, law enforcement tries to weed out and only include the rapes that meet the 80-year old federal definition, which, for example, excludes men as being possible victims of rape.

It's happening across the country, but perhaps for not much longer. Carol Tracy, the executive director of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, has been lobbying the FBI to make a change for nearly a decade.

"It's important for a couple reasons. In some communities, when they know a serious sex crime has occurred and the report comes out (and it's not listed), the community thinks the police are lying and not reporting it," Tracy said. "And the other issue is data drives resources. It's really important that decision makers — particularly those who control funding — understand the true incidence of sexual assaults."

There is an unfortunate side effect to a more accurate, but broader definition of rape used in FBI reports: the crime rates across the country are likely to skyrocket upward.

But Tracy said that hopefully this increase, while shocking, will reveal the true frequency of sexual assaults in our country, and lead to additional resources.

"I think it's going to make our communities safer," she said.


"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.