As anti-choice politicians seek to narrow the definition of sexual assault to “forcible rape” or “legitimate rape,” lawmakers in New York State are taking the opposite approach — and actually may be prepared to advance a bill that would expand the definition of rape to encompass additional acts of sexual violence.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D) first introduced the legislation last year after Lydia Cuomo, a Bronx schoolteacher who was raped by a city cop, discovered that her assaulter wasn’t going to be charged with “rape.” Since Cuomo’s rapist didn’t vaginally penetrate her, his crimes fell outside of New York’s current definition of rape — but Simotas’ bill seeks to change that by widening the state’s rape statues to officially include forced oral and anal sex. Cuomo traveled to Albany on Tuesday to use her own personal experience to help advocate for the proposed legislation, urging state lawmakers to make sure an outdated legal definition won’t continue to deny survivors the justice they deserve.
At the beginning of 2012, the FBI updated its definition of rape for the first time in 80 years to include forced anal and oral acts. But, while that’s an important step to update the way the agency measures trends in crime, it doesn’t impact federal or state legal codes. Twenty five states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have eliminated the word “rape” from their codes in order to use the more inclusive terms “sexual assault” or “sexual abuse” — but in the remaining states, including New York, the official definition of what’s considered to be rape can vary widely.