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FBI's New Rape Definition Leads To A More Comprehensive Look At Chicago Crime

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After years of partially unreported violent crime statistics in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, Chicago's numerical quirks have finally been hammered out. The biggest problem? Differing definitions for rape and sexual assault.

Every year, law enforcement agencies hand their crime data over to the FBI, who then spend months combining the data into the Uniform Crime Report, one of the most accurate representations of crime in America.

This isn't an easy feat. While you'd think there'd be consensus on what constitutes, say, murder or arson, many state and city law enforcement agencies have their own varied definitions of crimes. When a law enforcement agency records a crime in a way that's drastically different from the FBI's methods, the FBI will sometimes leave the numbers for that crime out of their crime reports.

This Was The Case For Chicago

The biggest sticking point between the Chicago Police Department and the FBI has been differing definitions of sexual assault and rape, leading the FBI to leave Chicago's rape statistics out of the UCR for decades, despite the fact Chicago has always submitted their numbers to the FBI.

"The issue was that the federal 'forcible rape' definition was more narrowly construed than [the] Illinois criminal sexual assault definition," a spokesman from the Chicago Police Department told me.

But in 2014, the FBI changed their definition of rape. Since their new definition more closely resembles the one the Chicago Police Department has been using for decades, Chicago's statistics have been included in the recently-released UCR for 2014.

Related: Sexual Assault In A Big City: Is There A Lack Of Priority?

This is likely the most complete look at violent crime in Chicago we've gotten since the s from the FBI in three decades -- or possibly ever. Since the UCR covers the entire United States, from the smallest cities to the biggest counties, this gives a better indication of how Chicago fits into the nation's crime trends.

The old FBI definition of rape was limited to the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will."

Their new definition, in the words of proponents, broadens "the scope of the previously narrow definitions by capturing (1) data without regard to gender, (2) the penetration of any bodily orifice, penetration by any object or body part, and (3) offenses in which physical force is not involved."

Basically, sex crimes that did not previously fit the FBI's old definition of rape fit the new definition.

The New Definition Is Better

In my opinion at least.

Oddly enough, Illinois was ahead of the curve when it instituted a more encompassing definition of sexual assault in 1983, with many cities and the FBI changing their definitions to be similarly encompassing in recent years (though I don't mean to imply Illinois inspired these changes, just that these changes are similar to what we've had here for awhile).

I've got more than a few qualms with the way the city handles sexual assault investigations, but the city's definition of sexual assault is not one of them.

Currently, our society systemically stacks the odds against sexual assault victims in many ways. It's important to have rape definitions that don't -- like many other aspects of the criminal justice system -- reduce the chances of rapes being reported. Victims should not have to fear that their accusations won't be considered "legitimate" because of their gender, the exact sexual act that occurred, because alcohol was involved, or any number of other factors.

National Incident-Based Reporting System data on Rape, via 2013 Uniform Crime Report

Chicago's Discrepancies

The difference between the FBI's old and new definitions was made numerically clear by the FBI last year, when they showed the number of rapes by both the old and new definitions side by side.

The older, more narrow definition counted 26,994 rapes in America in 2013. The newer definition counted a total of 38,250 -- a 41 percent increase.

This highlights the key reason for not including Chicago's sexual assault statistics in the years prior to the FBI's new rape definition; had they done so, Chicago's numbers would have been misleadingly bloated when compared to other cities.

Recently, there was one other discrepancy between Chicago's violent crime numbers and the FBI's. For 2012 and 2013, it was revealed CPD had counted aggravated assaults by incident. The FBI asks law enforcement agencies to count aggravated assaults by victim. If there were a single shooting in which two people were shot, CPD would have counted this as one incident even though the FBI would have counted it as two, since there were two victims. According to City Hall, the Chicago Police Department now counts aggravated assaults by victim, retroactively correcting the totals for 2012 and 2013.

Violent Crime In Chicago In 2014

There were 24,089 incidents of violent crime in Chicago in 2014. This includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

That's 411 murders, 1,343 rapes, 9,804 robberies and 12,531 aggravated assaults.

For the city as a whole, that's a rate of about 884 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Violent Crime
Chicago's 2014 violent crime rates per 100,000 people.

While Chicago has high totals of violent crime, it also has a high population. When you compare the rates of crime while considering population size, Chicago is not the murder capital it's become infamous for. Several cities have higher rates of violent crime than Chicago.

Soon, I'll dig into the numbers to get a closer look of how Chicago measures up against other U.S. cities.

With that in mind, it's important to remember that the FBI specifically cautions against using local crime statistics for ranking purposes.

Still, considering the outrageous ways people often talk about crime, it's important to get some perspective when it comes to crime statistics. Hopefully, seeing how Chicago stacks up against the nation won't serve as an educational exercise instead of a petty competition.

But who knows, you know how us news organizations can be.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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