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Police Mishandling of Rape Cases

Rape and Sexual Assault

Policy Brief: Advocacy to Improve Police Response to Sex Crimes

The Women’s Law Project started advocating to improve police response to sex crimes in 1999 when it led the reform of police practice in Philadelphia.  Our newly published Policy Brief describes the innovative strategies we have pursued at both the local and national level.   

Rape and Sexual Assault In the Legal System

At the request of the National Academies, the Women's Law Project, in collaboration with Aequitas: The Prosecutor's Resource on Violence Against Women, prepared Rape and Sexual Assault in the Legal System. This paper describes in detail the common elements of rape and other sexual assault laws used in the states, territories, federal government, and Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and provides the context in which these laws have developed and continue to evolve. Accompanying this paper is a Statutory Compilation Rape and Sexual Assault Laws prepared by Aequitas that includes all of the state, territory and federal rape and sexual assault laws and a number of detailed charts of the elements of these crimes. This paper was originally presented to the National Research Council of the National Academies Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys Committee on National Statistics on June 5, 2012. It has been reprinted with permission from the National Academy of Sciences, Courtesy of the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.. See the National Research Council’s final report: Candace Kruttschnitt, William D. Kalesbeek & Carol C. House, eds., Nat’l Academy of Sciences, Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault (2013), available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18605.These documents are a unique resource for lawyers, prosecutors, researchers, and other professionals.

WLP Pleased with Attorney General Holder's Announcement on Changes to UCR Definition of Rape

January 6, 2012 - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Uniform Crime Report's (UCR) definition of rape will be revised to provide a more comprehensive statistical reporting of rape in America. WLP applauds Attorney General Holder as well as Vice President Biden and Director Susan Carbon of the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women for thier leadership in moving this issue foward. (see WLP Press Release)

WLP Applauds FBI Director Mueller for Acting on Recommendation to Change Rape Definition

December 15, 2011 - The Women’s Law Project applauds FBI Director Mueller for acting on the Policy Advisory Board’s recommendation to change the UCR’s archaic definition of rape. A decade ago, the WLP began a campaign to change the definition of rape used by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Report (UCR).  On behalf of 90 state-based sexual assault coalitions and national organizations concerned with violence against women, the WLP wrote to FBI director, Robert Mueller, that the current definition, unchanged since 1929, was narrow, outmoded, steeped in gender-based stereotypes, and seriously understated the true incidence of sex crimes.  The September 27, 2001, letter to Mr. Mueller went unanswered.  See full press release.

Women's Law Project Hails FBI Recommendation to Change Definition of Rape

FBI Action Marks Success of Decade-Long Campaign

Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 6, 2011. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Advisory Policy Board overwhelmingly voted in favor of changing the definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Summary Reporting System (SRS) to reflect what the public understands to be rape and to conform with state felony sex crime statutes. The change expands the 82-year-old UCR definition of rape from forcible penile-vaginal penetration to “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.” Go to full story!


The Women's Law Project has worked with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) since 1999 to help improve the Philadelphia Police Department's response to sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence complaints. This collaboration came about after the
Philadelphia Inquirer
exposed the PPD's decades long practice of downgrading thousands of rape and sexual assault cases to a non-criminal category, thereby precluding a full and complete investigation of the crime.

WLP Tackling the Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape and Sexual Assault Cases in the U.S.

Huffington Post

FBI Director Robert Mueller: Agency Will Update Definition Of Rape (Dec. 15, 2011)

FBI's Definition of Rape is Outdated And Narrow, Agency Panel Concludes by Amenda Terkel
(Oct. 20, 2011)


FBI Definition of Rape Needs Broadening, Panel Says by Seth Stern (Oct. 20,2011)

Police Executive Research Forum in Washington DC (September 23, 2011)

New York Times article by Erica Good, Rape Definition Too Narrow in Federal Statistics, Critics Say (Sept. 28, 2011).

Carol Tracy Testifying Before U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases (September 14, 2010)

There is a chronic failure to report and investigate rape cases in the United States...
- Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women's Law Project

Go to CSPAN video of hearings

Carol Tracy  
Jay Mallin Photos  

Washington, DC - On September 14, 2010, WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about police mishandling rape reports. (see Tracy testimony)

WLP Letter to FBI (2001) Covering UCR Rape Definition

Improving Police Response to Sexual Assault Victims
(Fall 2001)