By Wendy Murphy
WeNews contributing editor
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Joe Biden recently threw the rape card at opponents of Obama's failed jobs bill, saying they would prevent the hiring of cops needed at the crime scene. Wendy Murphy calls it a spurious argument unworthy of a leading advocate for women's safety.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Vice President Joe Biden recently criticized opponents of the president's failed jobs bill on the grounds that--among other things--rapes "will continue to rise" if the bill isn't passed.
His reason: the bill would have paid for more police officers who could get to the scene of the crime and prevent a rape.
This is nonsense.
Rape victims almost never call 911 because they rarely report the crime right away.
Even when then they do, the cop almost never shows up in time to prevent the crime; not because there aren't enough officers on duty, but because by the time the victim is free enough to call 911, the perpetrator is long gone.
Biden further complicated the public perception of rape by describing the crime, from a victim's point of view, as having a "200 pound man standing over you telling you to submit."
Note to Joe: That's not how it happens. Ask most any victim.
Eighty five percent of the time, the offender is someone the victim knows and the victim isn't thinking about the emergency room so much as how harshly people will judge her for his actions. More cops won't change this.
Victim advocates, meanwhile, are often leery of police tactics when it comes to rape, particularly cases involving police officers as alleged perpetrators.
A far more effective option would cost taxpayers nothing: The definition of rape could be modified in every state to eliminate force as an element of the crime. Almost all states define rape as requiring proof of force as well as non-consent. This enables offenders to violate victims against their will, with impunity, so long as they don't use force.
To much fanfare, the FBI recently announced it would redefine rape in its Uniform Crime Report, which measures national rates of crime, to include all acts of unwanted sexual penetration irrespective of the use of force. The previous definition, in place for more than 80 years, defined rape as "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." The new definition eliminates the requirements of "carnal knowledge" and "force," meaning any nonconsensual sex act can be classified as rape.
But this long overdue change does nothing about criminal prosecutions under federal and state law. It just gives the FBI a broader way to measure the number of rapes in a given year, nothing more.
With the exception of a couple of jurisdictions that have amended their laws to add a "rape without force" crime, the definition of rape continues to require proof of force in addition to non-consent.
Biden's time would be better spent pushing for the elimination of force as a factor in rape law, not just rape statistics.
The worst part of Biden's comments is that he knows better.
I voted for him for vice president in part because 20 years ago he sponsored the Violence Against Women Act and drew attention to research showing that convicted thieves are often punished more harshly than convicted rapists.
He knew then what he knows now - that the huge amount of sexual violence in our country is tied to the failure of our legal system to fairly redress the crime--not from an inadequate number of police officers on the street.
Biden's willingness to distort the reality of rape for a larger political agenda is particularly disappointing given his long record of safety advocacy.
Earlier this year it was Biden who stepped up to announce federal rules requiring college officials deal more effectively with rape on campus.
Only about 5 percent of these victims report the crime to school or law enforcement officials, primarily because they believe the response will be meaningless, if not harmful. In his remarks, Biden never once said the problem of campus rape needs an influx of campus police officers.
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Wendy Murphy is an adjunct professor at New England Law/Boston where she teaches a seminar on sexual violence. She's a former sex crimes prosecutor and author of "And Justice For Some." An impact litigator who specializes in violence against women, Murphy consults and lectures widely on sex crimes, violence against women and children and criminal justice policy.
FBI Update on Definition of Rape: