This post was also blogged on Feminist Critics.
In 2011, the FBI approved a new definition of rape which was effective beginning in January 2013. Here it is:
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.
There was a bit of discussion when it was published as to whether it covered rape by envelopment. It’s written pretty ambiguously and the use of the word ‘penetration’ made many think that it didn’t include rape by envelopment. I have earlier argued for assuming in discussions that it includes rape by envelopment, but I quickly became disillusioned when it became clear that other governmental agencies like the CDC and the National Research Council excluded rape by envelopment from their definitions of rape.
I am happy to tell that Ms. Mary P. Reese, from the FBI’s CJIS Division’s Crime Statistics Management Unit confirms in an email that they consider rape by envelopment to be rape under the current FBI definition of rape, and that they’ll consider my suggestion in modifying documentation for the reporting agencies to reflect that more clearly.
Here’s the story on how this came about as well as screenshots of the email communication with Ms. Reese at the FBI.
About a month ago Reddit user femmecheng (a feminist regular on /r/FEMRADebates) contacted me. She had been told by an MRA that I might be interested in a couple of documents on the FBI definition of rape which she had gotten after being in contact with Ms. Reese at the FBI. One document was a short fact sheet on the new rape definition. The other one was a user manual and technical specification on how the reporting agencies should report using the new definition.
What made the last document interesting was that it included several examples of what the agencies should report as rape. The first thing I noticed was that none of the examples described rape by envelopment. I wasn’t surprised by that.
I did however notice another discrepancy between the definition and one of the examples. The definition states that oral penetration must be done by a sexual organ while one of the examples involved oral penetration by a sexual object. I thought the discrepancy signified some plasticity in the definition and decided to send an email to Ms. Reese (who was listed as contact person on the first document) and ask whether this plasticity could also mean that rape by envelopment is covered by the definition. If so, I suggested that they include an example with rape by envelopment in their documentation.
A month went by and I got no answer, so I contacted femmecheng again to ask her how long it took for her to get a reply from Ms. Reese at the FBI when she mailed her the first time. She offered to mail a copy of my mail to Ms. Reese and she got a reply from her a day after. Perhaps my inintial mail to the FBI was caught in spam-filter or someting.
I should point out that the next paragraphs describes two acts of incest and rape – one of the description is from the FBI document and the other one is a reworded version which describes an act of rape by envelopment. I chose that example to modify since that was the only example in the FBI document which had a female perpetrator and a male victim.
In my mail to Ms. Reese I had rewritten one example to describe rape by oral envelopment rather than rape by anal penetration which was depicted in the original example.
Example 7 from the FBI manual and technical document originally read:
“A woman took her young son to a secluded park. She told him they would have special time together, convinced him to remove his pants, and penetrated his anus with her fingers. She told the boy that she would go to jail if he told anyone and that his father would not love him anymore.”
I changed that to:
“A woman took her young son to a secluded park. She told him they would have special time together, convinced him to remove his pants, and performed fellatio on him. She told the boy that she would go to jail if he told anyone and that his father would not love him anymore.”
And I asked if my re-written example would be reported as rape. The answer from Ms. Reese was:
If number 7 was rewritten as you’ve suggested, it would still be classified as Rape according to the definition since the act includes oral penetration by a sex organ of another person which was without the consent of the victim.
I also asked this question:
If a woman fellating a man without his consent (or otherwise made him penetrate her vaginally or anally without his consent) should be reported as rape – will FBI update their documents to include examples of this and make it more clear for reporting agencies to include incidents of that nature?
The answer from Ms. Reese was that they would consider my suggestion.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to femmecheng for inspiring me to take contact with the FBI by contacting me and for helping me in getting an answer to my questions from the FBI. Thanks!
Here are screenshots of the mail I wrote and the reply from the FBI:
A shorter version of this post is also published on Feminist Critics.