New York State Assembly Passes Rape is Rape Act, Clearing the Way for Governor Hochul's Signature

New York State Assembly Passes Rape is Rape Act, Clearing the Way for Governor Hochul's Signature

Albany, NY - January 29, 2024 - The New York State Assembly passed a key chapter amendment to the Rape is Rape Act today, establishing an updated effective date and providing clarity for prosecution, and clearing the way for Governor Hochul to sign it into law. This critical legislation, which has passed in the Assembly for 12 years, redefines rape in New York’s penal law to include nonconsensual vaginal, oral and anal sexual contact. The enactment of Rape is Rape will be a crucial step in recognizing the bodily autonomy, dignity and safety of all New Yorkers. (A.8558, Cruz).

“Rape is Rape will become law, sending a message to survivors that what they endured was rape, and it deserves to be acknowledged as such. This is more than a change in terminology; it’s a profound shift to recognize the full spectrum of pain, affirming the dignity of every survivor and fostering a just legal and societal reconciliation. I extend my deepest gratitude to Lydia Cuomo for her bravery on behalf of survivors. She endured the unimaginable and helped lead the way to justice for others. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Assembly and Speaker Carl Heastie for championing and passing this legislation year after year, especially the original sponsor - former Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas for seeing the injustice Lydia had to endure and fighting to correct it. And, of course, I would like to thank the sponsor in the Senate, Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, for his tireless dedication and Governor Hochul for signing it into law. As we proceed with this significant step, I am reminded of the historical journey and the many voices that have contributed to this turning point, moving us closer to a future where every survivor is heard, acknowledged, and granted the justice they rightfully deserve,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz.

“Rape is Rape, plain and simple. In New York State we cannot allow outdated, heteronormative notions of sex to limit our ability to acknowledge that fact, and to hold those who commit acts of sexual violence accountable. I applaud the Assembly for passing our bill (S8008), and now our chapter amendments, to expand the definition of rape to include not only vaginal penetration, but also acts of oral, anal and vaginal contact. This update to the law will make it easier to hold perpetrators of sex crimes accountable and will be particularly important in helping to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are victims of rape and sexual assault at higher rates than cis-gendered heterosexual Americans. Thank you to Assemblymember Cruz for fighting for this change in the Assembly and thank you to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for making this bill a priority in the Senate. I also want to extend my sincere gratitude to Lydia Cuomo, the brave survivor, whose activism and perseverance spurred this much needed change,” said Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.

It has been 15 years from the moment I was brutally raped and the law failed me. The definition of rape refused to recognize what happened to me as such and allowed my assailant to walk away with merely a sexual assault conviction during the trial. Over the years as I saw the passing of the “Rape is Rape” Act 11 times in the Assembly but fail to become law, I felt hopeless. But now, thanks to the work of Aravella Simotas, who started this legislation and fought for this law for over a decade and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who carried it to the finish line, it will finally become law. I am unbelievably grateful to these women and their teams who have helped make this happen. This legislation is a sign that the voices of survivors matter here in New York. That our pain will no longer be ignored because of an antiquated law and that we can finally seek the justice we deserve,” said Lydia Cuomo.

“Over the last decade, the Assembly Majority has fought to pass this legislation updating outdated language in our laws to call these horrific crimes what they are - rape - and ensuring that survivors of sexual assault are able to seek justice,” said Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie. “It is long past time that this statute made it into our lawbooks, and I commend Assemblymember Cruz for her hard work on behalf of survivors across New York.”

Words have power. By modernizing antiquated rape laws, we acknowledge the trauma survivors experience and take one step closer to equality. Thank you Assemblymember Catalina Cruz for your legislative drive, passion and focus; I could not have asked for a better advocate to carry this bill. We would not be here today without the Assembly’s commitment to see this bill become law. Thank you Speaker Heastie for your assurance and friendship. Finally, this critical change would not be possible without Lydia Cuomo, who turned tragedy into triumph. She traveled to Albany to tell her story and educate legislators, lawyers and the world about the effects of bad, misogynistic and homophobic definitions to our penal code. Thank you for showing us how to move forward and make progress for all survivors of rape,” said former New York State Assemblymember Aravella Simotas.

“Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest nonprofit victim assistance organization, congratulates Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and their colleagues in the New York State Legislature for making common-sense changes to the state’s antiquated definition of rape in the penal code. By eliminating the penetration standard that was previously required in order to obtain a conviction for rape, and by recognizing that forced oral and anal penetration should also be counted as rape, the legislature will more closely align our laws with the experiences of sexual assault survivors. Safe Horizon extends special gratitude to Lydia Cuomo, whose sexual assault in 2011 led lawmakers to contemplate these long-overdue changes to the penal law, and to former Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who fought valiantly for many years to pass this legislation. Finally, we thank Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this historic bill into law. We are grateful to have elected leaders who see and hear survivors and understand the importance of aligning our laws with survivors’ experiences,” said Liz Roberts, CEO of Safe Horizon.

The Rape is Rape Act was inspired by Lydia Cuomo, a brave survivor, who was brutally raped the morning of August 19, 2011. At the time, Ms. Cuomo was a 25 year old elementary school teacher on her morning commute for the first day of school. That morning, she was approached by inebriated off-duty police officer Michael Pena, who proceeded to brandish his police-issued firearm and rape her. Mr. Pena was charged with rape, criminal sexual act and predatory sexual conduct. However, he was only convicted of the lesser charges because the jury could not agree as to whether Mr. Pena had vaginally penetrated Ms. Cuomo. The criminal sexual act charges, of which he was convicted, included violating her orally and anally. Under current law, in order to establish rape, it must be proven that there was penetration between the penis and vagina. New York State law did not recognize what transpired that morning as rape, highlighting the inadequacies of the state’s outdated and gendered rape statutes. Inspired by Ms. Cuomo’s bravery and story, former Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced the Rape is Rape Act in 2012 and championed it every year until she left the Assembly in 2020.

Last year, Rape is Rape finally passed in both the Assembly and the Senate. The technical amendments passed today represent fine-tuning designed to ensure just and clear implementation. The bill is scheduled to be signed into law by the governor immediately, with its provisions set to take effect on September 1, 2024.