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Queens Assemblywoman's Bill to Redefine Rape Sparks Debate Over Wording

By Jeanmarie Evelly | February 19, 2013 10:52am

QUEENS — A Queens lawmaker's attempt to redefine the state's definition of rape has sparked debate over the definition of the crime.

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who represents Astoria, wants New York State's legal definition of rape to include forcible sexual conduct, including forced oral and anal sex. Current state law requires vaginal penetration for a rape charge.

But another lawmaker, state Sen. Catherine Young, has introduced her own version of the bill which would exclude any mention of anal or oral contact.

Simotas says that omission would fail victims like Lydia Cuomo, a young teacher who was sexually assaulted in Inwood in 2011 by a former cop, Michael Pena.

Pena’s case ended in a partial mistrial when the jury could not agree on several counts, including two counts of rape, because of the law's current definition (Pena later pleaded guilty to the charges to avoid another trial).

Cuomo appeared in Albany last week alongside Simotas to advocate for the a change in the law.

"Some sources have expressed concerns about whether forced oral sex is rape," Simotas said in a statement.

"I say ask a survivor what forced oral sex is called...Is this a criminal sexual act? The clear answer is — no, this is rape."

Simotas also said the Senate version of the bill would "eviscerate the gender neutrality" of the law.

"The colloquial language that people use is the language that jurors use," Simotas said. "Describing these acts in a way that people actually understand, that jurors actually understand will only ease the way for convictions of sex offenders. "