By Colleen Flaherty
Friday, September 17, 2010
A woman who was robbed and sexually assaulted in 2004 wound up as a suspect in her assailant's crime. This week she told her story at a congressional hearing into the under-reporting and poor policing of rape and sex-assault charges.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., testified that the out-of-date definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report, or UCR--the FBI's collection of data from the nation's police departments--results in a severe undercounting of rapes.
"In the Uniform Crime Report Program, only forcible rape is counted. The UCR instructions to law enforcement ensure that the definition will be interpreted narrowly," said Smeal. She added that forced anal sex, forced oral sex, vaginal or anal fisting and rape with an object could all be excluded. Such exclusions, she said, can create the perception that rape is a much smaller problem than it really is and requires fewer policing resources.
Following the exposure of Philadelphia's failures in 1999, Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey enacted changes that he urged the committee to consider. He encouraged collaboration among government, advocacy and prevention groups to help victims, all while keeping the process transparent.
"We must all be advocates for anyone who has been impacted by this kind of violence," said Ramsey. "Our partnerships have strengthened every part of the process, from reporting each case of sexual assault, irrespective of the circumstances to a thorough investigation by well-trained specialized detectives, and finally working with our medical and mental health providers in minimizing the trauma experience by victims of the heinous crime."
Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is calling to change the FBI's definition of rape in order to gather more accurate statistics.
The 80-year-old Pennsylvania Democrat also wants to assign federal funding for police departments across the country for better resources and expert training in prosecuting offenders and offering assistance to victims.
"This is a subject of enormous importance. We have not even begun to scratch the surface," Specter said in his closing statement.
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Colleen Flaherty is a Women's eNews editorial intern and journalism major at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
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