Justice Department Updates Definition of Rape

It is always a treat to see society is moving in a positive, helpful direction in terms of handling sexual assault.  So I am pleased to report that the US Justice Department recently expanded its official definition of rape to be, "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."  This replaces the laughably (if one can stomach laughing about such things) archaic previous definition of rape, “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

Thank you Justice Department for recognizing both that men can and are raped, and that physical force is not necessary to rape someone.  The key is lack of consent, and it just doesn’t matter who isn’t consenting, or what allows the perpetrator (force, drugs, threats, etc.) to get around their consent.

One of the major reasons for updating this definition is reportedly to make the FBI’s annual compilation of crime statistics more accurately reflect the scope and volume of crimes of sexual violence in the US.  I’ll be glad to see that happen as well.  Although, even more than that, I’ll be glad to see so many male survivors of sexual violence have their experiences validated.

Those of us who have worked closely with rape survivors for any length of time have long recognized the existence of male rape.  It’s high time that our government officially acknowledges the breadth of experiences that constitute rape.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.