Lawmakers in New York are set to introduce a bill that would revise existing rape laws. The legislation seeks to clarify the definition of rape and will include forced sexual penetration that was previously omitted.
The “rape is rape” bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas. Under current legislation, a sexual assault is not defined as rape unless vaginal penetration has occurred. Forced sexual penetration such as oral or anal sex are classified as “criminal sex acts,” not rape.
Lydia Cuomo, an elementary schoolteacher, has come forward to support the legislation. Cuomo was raped by an NYPD police officer in 2011.
As reported by NY Daily News, Cuomo was waiting for a ride when she was approached by former Officer Michael Pena. The former officer held his department-issued gun to her head and threatened her life. Pena then proceeded to sexually assault Cuomo, subjecting her to forced oral and anal sex.
When Cuomo reported the attack she expected Pena to be charged with rape. She was confident that the prosecution had presented a solid case:
“I feel like essentially I had a silver platter of a rape case. I had witnesses, I had DNA, I had my own testimony, I had two cops. I had them saying, ‘We admit he sexually assaulted you,’ and I didn’t get the verdict I needed the first time, and that just highlights to me the problem in the system.”
The jury reportedly could not agree that she has been “raped” under the current definition of the law. Cuomo hopes that her story will urge lawmakers to update the law to include any forced sexual penetration.
In 2012 the FBI updated the definition of rape to include oral and anal sex. The definition was an effort to maintain an accurate record of crime trends. The FBI’s definition, however, does not change state law.
As reported by Think Progress, the federal government and 25 states have removed the word “rape” from section codes in an effort to define forced sexual contact more clearly. All other states have retained the crime of “rape” in their section codes and the definition varies widely.
Some state prosecutors have expressed concerns that the new legislation would make it difficult to convict offenders of rape. For a rape conviction the prosecution would have to prove that penetration occurred. Some prosecutors worry that it would be incredibly difficult.
Jeffrey Klein, Senate co-leader, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have both committed to supporting the legislation. With their endorsement, New York is one step closer to revising existing rape laws.