WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration Friday expanded the FBI's more than 8-decade-old definition of rape to count men as victims for the first time and to drop the requirement that victims must have physically resisted their attackers.
The new definition will increase the number of people counted as rape victims in FBI statistics, but it will not change federal or state laws or alter charges or prosecutions. It's an important shift because lawmakers and policymakers use crime statistics to allocate money and other resources for prevention and victim assistance.
A sexual assault victim advocate in the Tri-Cities championed the change, saying it might help more men or boys who used to feel they couldn't express their concerns or feelings about being raped.
"I think it helps male victims realize or take a stand against ... huge stereotypes that males can't be victims," said Angela Wolski, a victim advocate at the Sexual Assault Response Center. "If there's an effect, it will be positive, if not only for the fact that it's a reminder that males can be victims."
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Since 1929, the FBI has defined rape as the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will. The revised definition covers any gender of victim or attacker and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age. Physical resistance is not required.
Wolski said Washington's law already had a definition or rape that is gender neutral and includes victims who are not able to consent if under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The federal change just helps reinforce the message they give to victims.
"If you're a victim, you're a victim," she said. "It doesn't matter what you're doing or who you are. There's help out there."
Of SARC's more than 371 new clients helped from July 2010 to June 2011, 15 percent were male victims, she said. SARC's tracking goes from July to June. So far this year, since July 2011, they have had 230 clients and 14 percent were male victims.