The Definition of Rape Finally Gets an Update

For the last 80+ years, rape was defined simply as forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina. By that definition, forced oral or anal sex isn’t rape. Attorney General Eric Holder disagrees. He announced a revision to the Uniform Crime Report’s (UCR) definition of rape in a statement released Friday by the Justice Department. Rape is now defined as “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 the consent of the victim.”

It also takes gender off the table: Men can be raped and women can be rapists. If someone cannot consent to sex, “because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age,” they have been raped. If someone is sexually violated with an object or fingers, they have been raped. And, a lack of resistance, i.e. putting up a fight, does not imply consent. No means no, but someone’s inability to say no doesn’t mean he/she is saying yes.

Holder said the expanded definition of rape “will help ensure justice for those whose lives have been devastated by sexual violence and reflect the Department of Justice’s commitment to standing with rape victims.”

We say it’s about time.

Originally published January 2012 at


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