Tamen gets FBI to clarify its position on “envelopment” rape

The FBI implemented a new definition of rape in 2012. The previous definition defined rape as:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

The current definition now reads:

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.

The new definition recognizes forced anal and oral sex as rape, which incidentally allows male victims to also be recognized as rape victims on a federal level.

However, the new definition fails to clearly state whether being forced to penetrate counts as rape. This is important because a 2010 CDC study showed that the majority of male victims of sexual violence reported being forced penetrate their rapists rather than being penetrated by their rapists. While the CDC researchers did not define that act as rape (an issue I discussed elsewhere), being forced to penetrate is often counted as rape in various states.

So it is curious that the FBI chose language that at best makes it unclear whether those acts would count under the new definition. This has been a complaint from many male survivors, their advocates, and various men’s rights activists since the FBI announced the new definition.

To my knowledge, no one who wrote to the FBI about the definition received a response. Except now. Tamen, a blogger at Feminist Critics and Tamen’s Writings and a frequent commenter here, managed to get a response. From his blog:

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.

That is astonishing. Not only did he get a response (although it took a month), but Reese agreed to consider changing the FBI’s documentation to more accurately reflect their actual position. That does not fix the problems with the definition’s language, yet it does show that there are some people in the government willing to consider the possibility that men and boys are victims of rape and that females performing non-consensual sex acts on males counts as rape, regardless of whether the male is being penetrated by or penetrating the rapist.

Tamen gave an account of what happened and shared the email exchange on his blog. I suggest reading it and passing it along. This is the kind of change that we need in order to help abused men and boys gain the recognition they deserve.

Excellent work, Tamen.

2 thoughts on “Tamen gets FBI to clarify its position on “envelopment” rape

  1. Whoa, way to go Tamen! I too sent a letter and got no response…so glad to see that someone in a position of authority is paying some attention to the public. I truly hope that the definition of rape gets changed/updated where everyone can see it. Perhaps then male survivors will get the funding and assistance they have deserved for so long.

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