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One Violent Crime in the U.S. Keeps Trending Up While Others Drop: Rape

The FBI’s rape rates started rising in 2013, after the agency changed its definition of the act

by Carter Sherman
Sep 30 2019, 4:13pm

The rate of violent crimes kept falling last year — except for one: rape.

The rate of rape rose for the sixth year in a row, from 41.7 out of every 100,000 people in 2017 to 42.6 in 2018, according to data released Monday by the FBI. The report also measures the rates of violent crime such as murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery, and aggravated assault, all of which fell last year.

The FBI’s rape rates started rising in 2013, after the agency changed its definition of the act to include any unwanted penetration of a vagina or anus, or oral penetration — as opposed to “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” as the agency had defined rape for more than 80 years.

In 2012, the FBI reported that it was aware of an estimated 85,141 rapes, under the old definition of “rape.” In 2013, using its revised definition, the agency found that that number shot up to more than 113,000.

The 2018 report found that law enforcement received reports of an estimated 139,380 rapes. That number includes attempted rapes and assaults with the intent to commit rape, but it doesn’t factor in statutory rape or incest.

This portrait of sexual violence in the United States is also complicated by the fact that rape is likely wildly underreported. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its National Crime Victimization Survey, which is believed to better capture unreported crimes by asking a random sample of Americans about their experiences with crime. That survey found an estimated 734,630 people had been raped or sexually assaulted in 2018.

That’s not only more than five times the number of rape victims indicated in the FBI’s Monday report but also a huge spike from 2012, when National Crime Victimization Survey found that an estimated 284,350 people were raped or sexually assaulted.

Kristen Houser, spokesperson with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told VICE News earlier this year that Americans have long treated rape survivors with skepticism. And they know it.

“Ultimately, victims don’t report because they don’t trust anything will be done about it and that they will not be responded to appropriately,” she said. “We have to keep in mind the criminal court system is a reflection of the communities that it operates in. It’s real easy to sit on the outside and say the police need to do better or the prosecutors need to do better but ultimately they can’t and they won’t if we don’t all do better. They need to believe that a jury in that community will convict.”

Cover: Getty Images

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