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New York bill finally expands legal definition of ‘rape’ to include any forced sexual contact

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, February 14, 2013 14:00 EDT
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Advocates are praising a newly revised version of New York’s “Rape is Rape” bill that classifies any vaginal contact as “rape,” bringing the legal definition of that form of sexual assault in line with the standards for forced anal and oral contact.

The change came shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) endorsed the bill on Tuesday, when Republican state Sen. Catharine Young (pictured) introduced a second version that removes the legal requirement of “penetration” for forced vaginal penetration to be considered “rape,” and expands the conduct covered by the term to include forced oral and anal sex.

A New York Daily News story noted that the confusion about the last-minute changes surprised even rape survivor Lydia Cuomo, whose brutal sexual assault by an NYPD officer didn’t result in his conviction of first degree rape charges because the prior definitions required prosecutors to prove a specific kind of penetration. Cuomo, who is not related to the governor, wants the definition of rape changed to include vaginal, oral or anal contact — which the bill now does.

An aide to Sen. Young confirmed to Raw Story that characterization is correct. “It changes the standard for vaginal rape from penetration to contact,” the aide said. “It makes it easier to convict. [Prosecutors] just need to prove contact and not penetration, which was the problem that existed in Lydia Cuomo’s case. They had a lot of evidence but couldn’t prove penetration. That’s the problem our bill addresses.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office told Raw Story that the move was supported by prosecutors, but did not comment as to why. An aide to Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D), who initially introduced the legislation last year, explained that the revision does not actually change anything with regards to the actual crimes of forced oral and anal sex, where the legal standard is already “contact” instead of “penetration.”

“It wouldn’t change, frankly, what a jury would hear when they’re hearing the instructions from the court, other than it is to be called what it is, which is rape,” the aide said. “There are two Senate versions as of [Tuesday] night, so I don’t have all the details yet, but… [the new version] introduces a ‘contact’ standard for vaginal rape as well. I think that it’s something we are looking into, that we’ve been looking into for months, but the language around it is really complicated because the majority of people don’t think that ‘vagina’ means what it means.”

Mary Haviland, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, praised the bill’s intent. “Conduct besides vaginal penetration can constitute rape,” she said. “It is somewhat unclear what [legal] effect this has, but it will send a public message that these other forms of violation are as serious as what people had considered to be rape, and that is vaginal violation. I think it is mostly about perception, but those perceptions can be very important.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment.
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Photo: Courtesy, Senator Cathy Young on Facebook.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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