February 20, 2013

New York moves forward on a ‘rape is rape’ law

2-20-2013 New York:

The New York legislature moved to classify more kinds of sexual attacks as rape on Wednesday in new bill referred to as the “rape is rape” legislation.

In 2011, Bronx schoolteacher Lydia Cuomo (no relation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo) was attacked and sexually assaulted by an NYPD officer. While Cuomo waited to be picked up for her first day at a new job, a drunk, off-duty cop named Michael Peña approached her to ask for directions, before suddenly drawing his weapon and forcing her to have sex in a nearby alleyway. Later, in court, Peña’s lawyer conceded that Peña had penetrated Cuomo orally and anally–but not, he contended, vaginally. When the jury announced the verdict, Cuomo was astonished to learn that the rape charge had been dropped.

Under New York law, forced oral and anal sex are not considered rape. Only sexual assaults involving vaginal penetration warrant that designation. In Cuomo’s case, one juror had doubts about her story because she couldn’t remember the color of a car at the site of the attack–despite eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence on Cuomo’s underwear. Peña was convicted of forced oral and anal sex, which are both considered “criminal sexual acts,” and predatory sexual assault, since he had a gun, for a 75-year-to-life sentence.

The sentencing requirements for criminal sex acts are the same as those for rape–Peña eventually pleaded guilty on two counts of rape after prosecutors threatened to retry him, though it added no time to his sentence–but in cases of this kind, terminology matters.

“I feel like essentially I had a silver platter of a rape case,” Cuomo told the Daily News on Monday. “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 distinctions between forced oral, anal, and vaginal sex seemed so preposterous to New York Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, D-Queens, that she wrote a bill which would legally redefine forced oral and anal sex as rape.

“Rape is a very emotionally charged word,” Simotas told Salon in January. “It means a lot to victims and ...continued... by Evan Puschak,

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