Reported Rapes Up in Philadelphia

New rape definition having impact on reporting

Rapes are on the rise in Philadelphia – or are they?

According to crime statistics provided by the Philadelphia Police Department, 163 rapes were reported from the beginning of the year through March 3 -- the latest data available. That’s an increase of 9-percent over 2012.

Philadelphia Police Lt. John Stanford says the increase isn't because more rapes are being committed, but rather a change in how rape is being defined.

“That's simply because there's been in change in how certain sexual offenses are being categorized...," he said. “It’s going to appear that’s there’s a spike in rapes, but that’s not really the case.”

Stanford is referring to a decision by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to change the definition of what they consider rape. The FBI collects crime statistics from law enforcement agencies nationwide and releases an annual Uniform Crime Report.

Since 1929, the definition of rape used by the FBI was "the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

The new definition, which went into effect on Jan. 1 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.”

While announcing the new definition early last year, Attorney General Eric H. Holder said he though the change would help law enforcement better understand the scope of the crime.

“These long overdue updates to the 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,” Holder said. “This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.”  

The change no longer requires physical resistance from the victim to demonstrate lack of consent and is more inclusive of all genders.

“This long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years,” said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the time.

FBI spokesperson Stephen Fischer Jr. says the agency does expect to see an increase in rape occurrences due to the change. He cites males raped by females, victims of sodomy, and victims of sexual assault with an object as big additions.

Fischer says the agency could not comment further since they just began collecting the new data in January.

Stanford says three crimes that were in the past reported separately from rape are now included in the new stat. They include Aggravated Indecent Assault and two categories of Involuntary Deviant Sexual Assault -- one for women and another for men.

“If there has been an increase in rapes, that is something we will look at, but that hasn't been indicated at this time.”

Looking at how Philadelphia compares to other cities for these crimes, rapes are slightly up in New York City, but are down in Chicago, Los Angeles and closer to home -- Camden, NJ. The latest stats available for those cities run through the last weekend in February.

Philadelphia163 149 + 9%
New York City209205+ 2%
Chicago208221- 6%
Los Angeles78116- 32.8%
Camden768- 63.1%

Asked about their increase, a New York City Police Department  official said rapes are up in their city, but consider the crime under-reported.

“Regarding rape, the Police Department considers rape to be an under-reported crime, especially in instances where the assailant and victim are known to one another,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J Browne. “All of the increase is attributable to assailants who were known or related to their victims.”

According to the FBI, the new definition does not change federal or state criminal codes or impact charging and prosecution on the local level.   

“The revised definition of rape sends an important message to the broad range of rape victims that they are supported and to perpetrators that they will be held accountable,” said Justice Department Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Susan B. Carbon. “We are grateful for the dedicated work of all those involved in making and implementing the changes that reflect more accurately the devastating crime of rape.”

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