The longstanding, narrow definition of forcible rape, first established in 1927, is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” It thus included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina (Pienta, 2013, p. 27) and excluded oral and anal penetration; rape of males; penetration of the vagina and anus with an object or body part other than the penis; female perpetrators; marital rape; and non-forcible rape. In 2012, the federal definition of rape was updated. The current legal definition of rape is “The 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.” (Attorney, 2012) Should the federal government adopt a new legal definition of rape? The answer to that question depends upon what it would attempt to accomplish. Would a new legal definition provide more justice to sexual assault victims? Would it inform the behavior of would be rapists? Do we need other interventions to further the improvements made in society regarding sexual autonomy and rape prevention? Some say “yes”, and some say “no.”

In chapter 1.2 the topic being discussed is whether the federal government should adopt a new legal definition of the word rape or not. In the chapter, two scholars argue for or against the subject being discussed. These scholars do not just speak their opinions on the topic. They also tell us the history of the subject. One of the many cases that went to court for rape is Commonwealth vs Berkowitz which is also talked about in the chapter. This will change our everyday lives regardless of changing the definition or not. It would change is with fear because if the definition were to get changed to something more specific people would learn how to get around it or find loopholes. However, you could also find fear if they didn't change the definition because with it being so vague it does not cover all situations such as same sex rape. This could also change our lives with security. One could find security if the rule was changed to be more specific so it could cover all circumstances. One could also find security in the definition staying the same because with it being so vague lawyers can use it to help most of their victims.

This section talks about the definition of rape and whether it should be changed or if the current definition is sufficient. It talks about the views on both sides not just with opinions but also through surveys that have taken place. It goes into detail about why each side feels the way they do on topic and what specific concerns there are with defining rape.


This section should begin with the research presented in your text but may (should) be supplemented with additional, relevant material you find. Some of this will be found by following the suggested readings at the end of your text materials. Appropriate citations should be used.

The term rape was previously defined as forcible penile-vaginal penetration (1929). It wasn’t until 2012 the department of justice changed the legal term regarding rape. When researching the topic of rape and its legal definition I came across some very interesting arguments. While reading “Taking Sides,” it is discussed in the case of Berkowitz just how biased one’s opinion on rape is. In the Berkowitz case, it describes how both sides clash when talking about rape. We have one side of the argument discussing the rights anyone has when saying no and that by never consenting to the sexual activity it is therefore rape. Then, on the other side you see how people tend to believe that when one puts themselves in that position it is expected to happen. In “The Journal of Law and Criminology,” the author also discusses the problem that lies with consenting then withdrawing your consent during sexual activity. Within this research, it is shown the multiple sides when determining what is “rape” and what is not.
In continuation, it is known that the rules or understanding of the word “rape” is very murky and unclear. There are many different factors that different sides consider important to include or not include when debating about rape. When it comes down to it, one side can argue that a solid “no” or “yes” from both or one party participating is enough to level out the level of consent between the two, but then on another side they will argue that sometimes the word “no” could also mean “yes” or “maybe” “..making rape a strict-liability offense, or abolishing the need to show that the defendant used “force or threat of force,” would result in the conviction of nonculpable defendants, restrict the sexual autonomy of women as well as men, and likely provoke the refusal of prosecutors, judges, and juries to enforce the law” (Kahan, 2010). At this point, the debate is getting messy in a way. There are people who have the mindset that rape is this and then the others that see rape as this. The idea is to have a universal understanding and agreement on what the concept is and what is a solid definition for it. Taking away all the extra, unneeded pieces and stick with the solid evidence and understanding and with that, come up with consequences, rules, and action accordingly.
Continuing on this topic, recently states across the U.S have been revising their approach sexual crimes. They continue to try and advise more efficient outlines and explanations of what is okay and what is not. Previously, "no means no" has been a popular phrase to push the importance of consent during sexual encounters. The state of California actually just passed a new law that requires the state funded universities to switch to a "yes means yes" mentality. Claiming that now is must be very clearly and consciously stated that a person wants to consent to the sexual activity. The person has to be very aware that a state of silence or small physical response is not enough to give consent. Given these changes, has still been very challenging to get everyone all on one page on what exactly rape is. It has been defined very differently by many and this can cause a lot of controversy, especially when trying to count and counter rape cases. Ian Urbina wrote in The Challenge of Defining Rape that, "In many contexts, such as the major federal law on prison rape, “sexual assault” is used instead of “rape” because it covers non-consensual acts like kissing and groping that fall short of many people’s definition of actual rape". This is a prime example of a topic of controversy with the definition. Did you know that up until a few years ago, in 2012, the definition of rape claimed that it had to be an act committed exclusively to a woman? Since then the definition has expanded but clearly still has some room for improvement in a lot of people's opinion. Until there is an definition for rape that most agree with, there will be confusion and miscalculations throughout America. Ian Urbina wrote, "Mr. Yung published a study in March that found that more than 796,000 rapes were not included in the F.B.I.’s tally between 1995 and 2012, partly because of the way the police handled cases in which the person who was assaulted did not meet the department’s definition of a rape victim" (The Challenge of Defining Rape). This is something quite scary to think about. With further discussions and re-configuring, hopefully a new and more concise definition can be composed for rape.


Traditional cultural ideas are an important concept to consider when deciding if changes in the legal definition of rape are useful. Limitations in the legal definition of rape prevents convictions to stand based on archaic, non-scientific beliefs about rape. The idea of “legitimate rape,” that pregnancy cannot occur because the body “shuts that down” (Pienta, 2013, p. 27) or that is physiologically impossible to engage in sexual penetration against a woman's will — except, perhaps, in the case of an extremely strong and persistent male aggressor undermines the belief that rape can only be a very specific act with minimal consequences (McHugh, 1997). Also problematic is the belief that rape itself is the fault of women for simply existing where they don’t belong, outside of their traditional gender norms. Even the current president blames women being in the military for the high occurrence of sexual assault (Diaz, 2016). This is not an outlier belief. After the fiscal year ending in September of 2014, 18,900 military members fell victim to rape and other unwanted sexual assault. 43% were reported female, and 10% were reported male.
Gender is an important concept in the discussion of whether the federal government should adopt a new legal definition of rape- on several fronts. Statistics prove that 82% of juvenile victims are female, and 90% of adult victims are female as well. Not only does gender affect the likely hood of being raped, age plays a big role too. According to, females ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape than other females.Statistics also show that transgender people are also more likely to become victims than non transgender females and males. Much of the resistance to expand the legal definition of rape, or more importantly, hold offenders accountable, rests in traditional and archaic ideas of womanhood and manhood. Women can be negatively judged for choosing to exercise autonomy in their sexual lives, in their dress, sexual orientation, as well as other aspects of their lives outside of their sexuality. The longstanding legal definition up until 2012 excluded male victims, female predators, marital rape, assault with objects and body parts other than a penis, and a host of other assaults (Pienta, 2013, p. 29).
The acceptable behavior of men should be clarified legally, and they should be educated in the concepts of sexual assault, coercion, consent, and other aspects of sexual assault in efforts to conduct appropriate sexual relationships. Apart from clear communication, it is better to default to legal behavior as opposed to culturally acceptable, but potentially illegal behavior. Even if one doesn’t believe they should be bothered with legal burdens regarding sexual activity, they should be aware of what’s at stake when engaging in questionable sexual activity and act according to the law as opposed to social convention (Pienta, 2013, p. 29)

Gender is a key concept of this subject as more women are victims of rape and/or molestation than men in adulthood and childhood. Economics is another key concept in rape. The idea that women do not belong in the workplace and that they are only good for their bodies is an unfortunate thought that could lead to rape. Culture is another key concept of this subject. Individuals usually develop their ideas of norms from their cultural background and depending on others' ideas of norms, they could come into conflict with each other.

Today in the Topic

The current state of this topic is that people have many different definitions of the word rape. And many don't understand which ones are the correct meaning to the word rape.So by creating a new definition for the word by the federal government; more people would follow that definition since its from a high stand point.
With hopes to clear up this topic and to have the context be easily understood throughout the United States, the definition of rape is being debated. It has recently been revised in the way that state funded colleges in California enforce to prevent rape, but the definition itself has not currently shifted. The definition of rape has however been revised in the way it was applied a few times before. About 60 years ago, in some states it was considered rape for a black man and a white woman to have sexual encounters. Also, just around 40 years ago, it was illegal for husbands to be prosecuted for rape if the act was accused to have been with his wife. Since those times, what rape includes has been revised and expanded in order to change with the times. As of right now the American Law Institute has an effort in the works to reconsider just when exactly an assault becomes rape. This will help to clarify what exactly the definition of rape should consist of, and hopefully then it will be revised.

Reasons for Controversy

Why is this a controversial topic? There's more to each of our topics than differences of opinion. What are the reasons? (You may find as you read the text that what appears to be opposition really isn't in all cases.)

Updating the current definition can be effective in reporting rape statistics and for additional acts of sexual violence to be defined in legal terms. However, there is still a human element resistant to applying these definitions to the acts of rapists and administering justice to them. The next questions become “Does updated laws effect those who administer justice? And if they don’t, what is the next step to change their outlook? Can they be changed?” If one doesn’t believe that a change in the legal definition of rape changes the mind of a judge presiding over the case, then it might seem unnecessary to further update the law. The case of Brock Turner comes to mind. In this case Brock Turner was convicted of the sexual assault of an unconscious woman (Mitra, 2018). The presiding judge sentenced him to six months and lamented the destruction of the perpetrators life (Aggeler, 2018). New definitions do not reduce the need for education to produce young men and women to understand sexual autonomy, boundaries, safety, etc., nor does it change the behavior of predators. However, the progress made by redefining the legal definition of rape gives law enforcement the “teeth” to prosecute acts not covered by the narrow definition of rape that prevailed up until just a few years ago. The updated federal definition of rape provides a framework for the prosecution of rape and for state and local guidelines to follow. Consider the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Robert A. Berkowitz. Although the defendant, Robert A. Berkowitz, was convicted of rape, the conviction was overturned on the premise that the victim did not meet the burden of not giving consent AND displaying force through fighting back. (McHugh, 1997) During the time of the appeal, coercion wasn’t considered, nor was both the victim and perpetrator both admitting the victim said no. While there isn’t a guarantee that a new definition would have brought about a different result, at least there would be more factors to consider.
Also stoking the controversy is simply believing victims. There is still the widespread belief that victims lie to avoid accountability for their licentious behavior and the consequences of those actions in a culture that frowns upon sexual autonomy and behavior outside of traditional cultural norms. (Pienta, 2013, p. 29) Compare that to those who believe that sexual autonomy should not disqualify victims of sexual assault from justice. Sexual histories, intoxication, dress of victims, gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic status should not prevent aggressors from facing the legal consequences of their actions (Pienta, 2013, p.29)

This topic is controversial among many people of different backgrounds. A reason that people feel as though the definition should be changed is because they feel as though the current definition of rape is too vague. The official definition is "forcible penile-vaginal penetration." Many people find the term "forcible" too vague. It also brings the concern of same sex rape. By some people this definition is too vague and does not specify all the possibilities and issues of today. Another issue is what "no" means. Some say that one simply saying no in a sexual situation is enough and if the other proceeds it is rape. There is a lot of debate on this about how saying no does not always actually mean no. People say body language also plays a major part and is a way of giving consent even if they have verbally said no.

Common Ground

Is there a place in the middle of each opposing view to begin building a research- or evidence-based common viewpoint? Do we have common ground? Where is it?

Between the two, Dan M. Kahan, Jennifer L. Broach, and Patricia A. Petretic they all seemed to ave one thing is common on what they believe is rape. Each one says that the definition of rape has not been updated since 1929. they all believe that without the consent of the victim, any sexual actions or relations would be considered "rape".
When it comes to the common ground between the government and the people, there seems to be at least some effort to fix or diminish some tension and concern by updating an official definition. It took 82 years to update and looking back on how much the world, our economy, our cultures, and even our morals have changed and modified shows what needed to be done for some time now. Finding an understanding between the two sides and updating the definition to not just being “unwanted, forcible penile-vaginal penetration” but now “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” basically covers so much more and sets that common understanding between either sides officially (Pienta, 2013)
The government appears to be doing a relatively good job at trying to understand and grasp the fact that the people are not comfortable with the definition of rape. It leaves too many open ends that allow conviction for the crime to sway quite a bit too much based off each scenario. The government and law enforcers understand this as there are many many cases of rape that do not get filled and nobody gets convicted for, due to the case officers maybe not fully understanding what situations were really considered rape and which were not. What is agreed on is that there has to be an act of penetration. Most everyone will come to that core definition when thinking of what rape is, that is some common ground on the topic as well. Where it gets confusing and people tend to have different interpretations is when the details and situations get involved. This is where there needs to be clarification. Hopefully in time the common ground involving this topic will expand immensely and the varying interpretations will be halted.

See Also

As the term progresses, you should be able to link to other topics on other pages and return to previous pages and insert those links retroactively.

On page 17 in "Taking Sides" (in the article Is Access to Birth Control a Basic Human Right?), there is section called "The Choice to Terminate a Pregnancy". In many religions, to terminate a pregnancy is very frowned upon. This relates to how the definition of rape in various cultures and religions can be very different. There are many religions outside of the US, that have what would be considered minor girls in our country, to be very fertile women. In most cases of arranged marriages found in these religions, the wife (usually around age 13-18) is pregnant, or has already birthed a child. To most people in our society and culture, that has all the appearances of rape, but in other cultures (found inside and outside of the US) it is just merely a part of their culture, to use the female's most fertile, birthing years.


Any references cited in your text above should be fully referenced here. Use APA 6th edition format please.

Aggeler, Madeline (2018) The Brock Turner Judge Could Lose His Seat Today. (2018, June 5). The Cut. Retrieved from

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Revisions to the Uniform Crime Report's Definition of Rape; Data Reported on Rape Will Better Reflect State Criminal Codes, Victim Experiences. (2012, January 6). M2 Presswire. Retrieved from

Diaz, Daniella (2016) Trump defends tweet implying military sexual assault is the result of women serving. (2016, September 8). CNN Wire. Retrieved from

Matthew R., L. (2004). No Means No?: Withdrawal of Consent during Intercourse and the Continuing Evolution of the Definition of Rape. The Journal Of Criminal Law And Criminology (1973-), (1), 277. doi:10.2307/3491384

McHugh, J. T. (1997, Midsummer). Interpreting the "sexual contract" in Pennsylvania: the motivations and legacy of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert A. Berkowitz. Albany Law Review, 60(5), 1677-1693. Retrieved from

Pienta, R. (2013). Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Women's Studies. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

External Links

For more on the challenges in defining rape:“Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics | RAINN.” Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse | RAINN, 2018,

If there are additional links to which you'd like to refer readers, this is the place to insert them. All links above this section should be internal to our Wikidot site.