State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and rape victim Lydia Cuomo traveled to Albany on Tuesday to tout the reintroduction of the Rape is Rape bill.
In August 2011, Michael Pena, an off-duty police officer, forced Cuomo to perform fellatio and sodomy by gun point as she walked to her job as a school teacher in the Bronx.
Pena pleaded guilty in March and was convicted not of rape, but to predatory sexual assault, for which he will serve 25 years to life in prison.
Currently, New York State law, like all but eight states, does not classify these two acts as rape.
“It’s important that we label all these heinous crimes as rape,” Simotas said. “New York needs to be at the forefront, especially when it concerns survivors of rape and women’s issues. We are the progressive state.”
Simotas wrote the legislation in March, in response to the verdict to re-define the crimes of rape in the first, second and third degrees to include oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct and aggravated sexual contact in addition to sexual intercourse, as an element of rape charges.
Because the bill changes many sections of the penal code, Simotas said she had to work with many legislators to thoroughly alter the laws, to make a solid bill. This takes a while, she said.
“Then we just ran out of time,” she said.
However, this time around the bill has been introduced early on. Gov. Cuomo, no relation to the victim, has said he supports the bill and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) told Simotas he would bring it to conference.
“That’s a very positive step,” Simotas said.
Lydia Cuomo’s visit to the capital additionally allows lawmakers to hear about her experience and healing process first hand, which only helps advance the bill, Simotas said.
“A lot of change needs to happen around rape and the word ‘rape’ and this is my way of doing it,” Cuomo said on Tuesday in Albany.
Pena’s conviction carries the same sentence length as rape, Simotas said, but that’s not the point.
“Sentencing was the same,” Simotas said. “It doesn’t matter how long he goes away for. He didn’t go away as a rapist and that’s important to Lydia.”
“The bill highlights how rape is an emotionally charged word,” she added.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) proposed a resolution in the City Council to support the bill.
“I’m a former prosecutor and laws should reflect the crime,” Vallone said.
Rape victim and advocate Andrew Willis spoke in favor of Simotas’s bill. Willis is affiliated with the Stop Abuse Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting survivors of abuse.
“I was raped when I was a 10-year-old boy, but in New York anal rape isn’t rape it’s only a sexual assault,” Willis said. “Working together we’re going to change that by passing the ‘Rape is Rape’ bill.”
Willis has started an online petition at causes.com/AbuseStoppers for supporters to sign. As of Tuesday afternoon, over 1,250 signatures were recorded.