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Prior to the mid-1970s, the crime of rape was defined by most state statutes in terms of the British common law and involved the ”carnal knowledge of a female, not his wife, forcibly and against her will” (Bienen 1983: 140). Legislative reforms, designed primarily to reduce rape case attrition, redefined the crime of rape in sex neutral language and replaced the single offense of rape with a series of calibrated sexual offenses and commensurate penalties. Definitional changes resulted in an expansive category of sexual offenses, relabeled in such terms as ”sexual battery,” ”sexual assault,” or ”criminal sexual conduct” (Bienen 1983).
Although there are jurisdictional variations in criminal statutes, the crime of rape is typically categorized as a first degree sexual assault or battery. Rape refers to completed or attempted sexual intercourse with another person by the use of forcible compulsion. The concept of forcible compulsion may refer to physical force or psychological coercion. The act of forced sexual intercourse may involve vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender, using either his/her body or an inanimate object. This crime may involve heterosexual or homosexual intercourse, as well as male or female victims.
Second and third degree sexual assaults incorporate a wide range of completed or attempted sexual victimizations which are distinct from the crime of rape. These assaults include unwanted sexual contact with another person and may or may not involve the use of force on the part of the perpetrator. Some behaviors that are common in these categories are inappropriate fondling or grabbing; however, these crimes may also involve the perpetrator’s lewd or lascivious behavior or speech while in the presence of the victim.
Regardless of statutory classification, sexual victimizations are among the most highly under-reported crimes. Thus, given that victims may be unwilling to report their victimizations to strangers — police officers and researchers alike — determining the actual rates of sexual victimizations is highly problematic. Although there is no way to determine the exact number of sexual victimizations that are not reported to researchers, the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey data suggests that fewer than half (38 percent) of all victimizations are reported to police in the USA (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2008).
The issues surrounding under-reporting notwithstanding, there are two primary sources for data on sexual victimizations in the USA: The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). Whereas the NCVS is a collection of information from US households for all victims age 12 and older for sexual victimizations reported and not reported to the police, the UCR provides data on all completed and attempted forcible rapes and sexual assaults against female victims which have been reported to the police. The NCVS data suggest that there were an estimated 255,630 completed and attempted rapes and sexual assaults in 2006, resulting in a sexual victimization rate of 1.1 per 1,000 persons age twelve or older (BJS 2008). Comparable data from the UCR indicate that 90,427 sexual victimizations against female victims were reported to police in 2007, yielding a rate of 30 forcible rapes per 100,000 females (US Federal Bureau of Investigations 2008).
- Bienen, L. (1983) Rape reform legislation in the United States: a look at some practical effects. Victimology 8: 139—51.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics (2008) National Crime Victimization Survey: Criminal Victimization, 2006.
- US Department of Justice, Washington, DC. United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (2008) Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 2007. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
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