Note to Biden: Cops Aren’t Answer to Rape

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(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.

Offenders Usually Known

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.

FBI’s Move Only Affects Stats

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.

For more information:

FBI Update on Definition of Rape:

2 thoughts on “Note to Biden: Cops Aren’t Answer to Rape

  1. I beg to disagree with Wendy Murphy’s analysis that more cops won’t make a difference in rape arrests and prosecutions or that changing the FBI’s definition will have little impact. The Women’s Law Project has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the chronic and systemic failure of police in many major cities to adequately investigate sex crimes. We have also testified about the inadequacies of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report’s outdated definition of rape because it does not reflect states’ criminal codes, which categorizes as felonies those sexual assaults that people view as rape, and misleads the public about the number of felonious sex crimes handled by police. The UCR is also used to allocate federal dollars. The understatement of the statistics has huge public safety and financial implications. We’ve led the effort to bring about this change, which, Wendy Murphy’s assertion to the contrary, has not yet occurred.

    We’ve worked in Philadelphia to reform police practice dealing with sex crimes and have consulted with journalists throughout the country who have uncovered scandals regarding sex crime investigation. We know that with strong leadership, collaboration with advocacy organizations, and appropriate resources, police can improve their response to sex crimes. We’ve seen it in Philadelphia – we’re not done here but we’ve made significant progress – and we’re seeing it in other cities as well.

    The reality is that fewer police on the job means fewer police to respond to and investigate reported incidents of sexual violence, which means less accountability for perpetrators and therefore increased crime and decreased public safety. Rape crimes are uniquely resource-intensive – and of special interest to Vice President Biden – so they were singled out because these crimes would be particularly affected. Instead of criticizing the Vice President, Murphy should applaud him for keeping the issue of rape in the public eye.

    More significantly, however, the Vice President has supported expanding the definition in the UCR because the current definition causes significant undercounting of sex crimes. So the fact that there are even more sex crimes than the public and policymakers have known about means that the need for police is even greater than we thought, which is exactly what the jobs bill will address.

    Just because most women don’t report the crime to police does not mean that those who do come forward should not receive appropriate police response. In addition, more police and improved police response will, we hope, increase reporting by increasing public confidence in the police. It is clearly in the public interest to encourage increased reporting to law enforcement so that more rapists – whom current research shows tend to be serial predators – will be apprehended. The Vice President did not “throw the rape card.” He raised public awareness of the crime of rape – perhaps ineffectually – but nevertheless accurately described a major unmet need and a solution to it in the jobs bill. Additional police clearly are not the only answer, but their role in fighting violence against women cannot be overstated.

    Submitted by Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director, Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center located in Pennsylvania.