Attorney General Eric Holder changed the federal government’s legal definition of rape Friday, in order to make it more consistent with local and state law enforcement definitions and update a definition that’s been out of date for decades.
“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,” reads the new definition, as Holder has directed.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report had previously defined rape as “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
While most experts will agree the new definition is much improved — as it includes the possibility of male victims and accounts for the fact that rape doesn’t always occur vaginally or in a way that’s visibly forcible — the timing of the move appears politically questionable.
That’s because the new definition may accommodate controversial claims Vice President Joe Biden made in October. Then, Biden stated that rape crimes had increased by about 300 percent in Flint, Mich. — a number completely at odds with FBI statistics — because of a decrease in the size of local police forces.
“Let’s look at the facts: In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city,” Biden said on Oct. 18, 2011. “In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes — just to pick two categories — climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields.”
The Washington Post and FactChecker.org both rated Biden’s statement as factually incorrect, using the FBI’s record-keeping in their analysis. The Post’s fact-checker blog gave Biden “four Pinocchios,” the worst possible rating it can give to politicians for false statements.
Biden reportedly got his statistics from the City of Flint, and the city stands by its statistics according to Public Safety Director Chief Alvern Lock. In an Oct. 20, 2011, statement, Lock said there are discrepancies between different law enforcement agencies’ statistics and crime definitions — something that he said should account for the inconsistencies. “The discrepancies with the FBI and other sources reveal the differences in how crimes can be counted and categorized, based on different criteria,” Lock said.
Basically, that means local law enforcement statistics may differ from official FBI statistics because they employ different definitions for what constitutes a given category of crimes.
But on Friday, Holder’s change of how the federal government defines rape makes the FBI’s criteria more consistent with local and state law enforcement definitions, thus bolstering Biden’s October claim.
Biden praised Holder’s decision to redefine rape. “Rape is a devastating crime and we can’t solve it unless we know the full extent of it,” Biden said in a release. “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.”
Spokespersons for the Justice Department and for Biden’s office have declined to answer The Daily Caller’s questions about the relationship behind the long-overdue change in definition and Biden’s October remarks.
But on a conference call Friday morning with journalists, one reporter asked why the Obama administration took so long to update the definition, and why Holder and Biden chose to do it now.
Lynn Rosenthal, Obama’s adviser on violence against women, offered an ambiguous reply. “We’ve seen, over the past decade, a growing awareness of the full extent of the crime of rape,” Rosenthal responded. “States have modernized their state codes, we’ve seen greater public awareness, we’ve seen a lot of this, in large part, because of the Violence Against Women Act. So, we know much more today than we did in previous years about the full extent of this crime.”
In addition to fact-check reporting by The Washington Post and FactCheck.org, Biden’s use of rape numbers to bolster support for President Obama’s “American Jobs Act” came under scrutiny in an infamous video exchange between the vice president and Human Events reporter Jason Mattera.
Mattera, a widely known video ambush interviewer, caught Biden by surprise at a Capitol Hill event after asking if he would pose together for a joint picture. While embracing the vice president for the photo, Mattera asked Biden if he “regret[s] using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the president’s bill.”
After pausing in surprise for a moment, Biden attempted to defend his comments, looking visibly flustered. “I didn’t use — no, no, no,” Biden told Mattera amid a crowd of onlookers on Capitol Hill. “What I said — let’s get it straight, guy, don’t screw around with me. Let’s get it straight.”
“I said rape was up three times in Flint, [Mich.],” Biden continued. “There are the numbers. Go look at the numbers. Murder’s up, rape is up and burglary’s up. That’s exactly what I said.”
After the incident with Mattera, Biden’s office reportedly attempted to arrange for Congress to revoke the young video journalist’s press credentials.
Mattera retained his press pass.