Sexual assault data is far from accurate. Data from 2011, for example, finds reports of sexual assault or rape cases that range from 244,000 to 2 million. A recent piece by National Public Radio (NPR) discussed this disparity, noting that the two most common reasons behind the discrepancies are variable definitions for these legal terms and the evolving nature of the law.

Sexual assault statistics and variable definitions

Unfortunately, there is not one, single accepted definition for terms like sexual assault or rape. Sexual assault is generally a creature of state law. As a result, the definition may have some variations from state to state.

In some areas of the country, rape is defined as unwanted vaginal penetration, in others unwanted vaginal penetration would be defined as penetrative sexual assault. In New York, rape is generally defined as unwanted sexual penetration of any kind. Within this definition is additional variation, with three defined degrees:

  • Rape in the third degree. The lesser of these rape offenses, this allegation essentially involves either a lack of consent or intercourse that involves someone over the age of twenty-one with another who is under the age of seventeen.
  • Rape in the second degree. Involves allegations of an eighteen year old having intercourse with someone under the age of fifteen or with someone incapable of consent due to a mental disability.
  • Rape in the first offense. The most severe of these allegations, this criminal charge involves the claim that the person forced intercourse, had intercourse with someone who was physically helpless, who was under the age of eleven or who was under the age of thirteen and the accused was eighteen or older.

How these degrees are interpreted could lead to further discrepancy for statistic reporting purposes.

Sexual assault data impacted by changing laws

In addition to attempting to put each state’s unique definition of these terms into the right statistical category, the laws that define these terms within each state can change.

One example involves rape within a marital relationship. In the past, it was generally not considered a crime to rape one’s wife. In many states, including New York, the law has been updated to make this act criminal.

This variation can lead to skewed data. Having accurate data can help to provide lawmakers with the statistics they need to change statutes as necessary. Without accurate data, needed changes may be lacking.

Sexual assault accusations in New York

These accusations are more than just numbers. Behind every number is a person that is accused of committing a serious crime.

If you or a loved one is facing these accusations, it is important to take them seriously. A conviction can result in prison time and social stigma that can make it difficult to find employment, housing and pursue educational opportunities. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the details of the charges and help to better ensure that your legal rights are protected.