The NYPD Underreported Rape Due to an Outdated Definition of the Crime

The NYPD failed to update its crime-tracking system—and underreported rape by 38 percent.


Rape cases have gone underreported in New York City because of a glaring omission by the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

Newsy, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica have been investigating law enforcement departments all across the country to find flaws in crime reporting. Their project has already found several cities where rape cases are prematurely closed, allowing them to enjoy artificially high clearance rates. Among them: Wichita, Oakland, Baltimore, and Austin.

The most recent findings focus on an overly narrow definition of rape, which has led to a 38 percent discrepancy between the NYPD's rape reports and those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In 2012, the Department of Justice expanded the definition of forcible rape to cover any "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." The previous definition, which had been in place since 1927, only considered penile penetration of the vagina. The new definition is more favorable to victims of all genders and assault situations.

Several months later, the NYPD's leadership sent out a memo announcing that the department would update its definition in compliance with the new federal understanding. But in the seven years that have passed since then, the NYPD's crime-tracking system, CompStat, has failed to update its definition.

As a result, acts that are now recognized as rape are merely classified—and investigated—as "criminal sexual activity." The NYPD ended up underreporting the crime by 38 percent.

During an appearance this morning on WNYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the NYPD would update its CompStat website to reflect the federal definition "later this year."