Police officer Michael Pena was convicted of sexually assaulting a school teacher last year, but the jury failed to convict him of rape because of how the crime is legally defined. Now, the survivor of Pena's attack is lobbying lawmakers for a change in the law. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
Lydia Cuomo, no relation to the governor, is making her case about why New York needs to define all forms of rape as rape.
She talked about what happened to her in August 2011, when police officer Michael Pena sexually assaulted her in Upper Manhattan. Although she said he forced her to perform oral sex and anally raped her, a jury did not convict him of rape.
"It's, quite honestly, insulting and offensive to have 12 of your peers say what happened to you is sexual assault because it's not defined as rape in New York State," she said.
A new proposed bill would change that. It would define rape more broadly instead of just as forced vaginal intercourse.
"All of those acts are incredibly violent," Lydia Cuomo said. "You are being violated in such a horrific, horrendous way. For me personally, I don't think there was a difference between 1, 2 and 3, or a, b and c, of what happened to me."
Pena ultimately did plead guilty to two rape charges, and he was given an additional 10 years on top of the 75 he'd already been sentenced to.
Some prosecutors have raised concerns about changing the law. They said that multiple charges often help in securing convictions, as the burden of proof for rape is higher.
"I don't think it's going to have an effect," said Queens Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas. "If anything, you're going to be talking about these crimes the way that laypeople understand them, the way that jurors understand them."
"The semantics of this in calling rape rape is huge in how I move on and how I go forward," Lydia Cuomo said.
The change in statute will not necessarily lead to predators serving more time, as the bill does not come with an increase in penalties. It has the early backing of State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein and Governor Andrew Cuomo.