Rape is Rape
If we cannot agree on what rape is what chance have we got of stopping it?
By Andrew Willis
Two years ago, January 2012, the Attorney General Eric Holder announced important changes to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape. He explained how this would lead to a more comprehensive statistical reporting of rape nationwide.
New York’s definition of rape is more narrow and only involves the insertion of a penis into a vagina.
The FBI’s new definition is more inclusive, better reflects state criminal codes and focuses on the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape. The new definition of rape is: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The definition is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes including New York’s.
Three years ago Lydia Cuomo a schoolteacher in the Bronx, was raped by an off-duty New York City cop. But because her attacker violated her orally and anally, and the prosecution could not prove vaginally, her jury could not agree whether or not she had been raped. As a result, her attacker was convicted of an attack other than rape. Three months later, he ended up pleading guilty to two rape charges, so Cuomo was not forced to sit through another trial.
In response to Cuomo’s story, New York Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas sponsored a Rape is Rape Bill, and Governor Cuomo (no relation to Lydia Cuomo) also expressed support for the bill. With Lydia Cuomo, Simotas, with friends, and family members, I traveled to Albany to advocate for the bill, which would add force anal and oral sex onto New York State rape statutes. As of right now, those acts are classified as “criminal sex acts” rather than rape.
The Rape is Rape Bill redefines rape adopting a consistent standard of contact rather than the current standard of penetration, further it will call forcible oral and anal contact what they are- Rape.
There are many reasons to support this bill. Here are our top three. Rape is not just a legal term, New York’s rape law should be consistent with the FBI’s new national standard, and respect for victims.
Rape is not just a legal term
Making the legal definition of rape consistent with the everyday meaning of rape will make prosecutors jobs easier. It will also clarify in a post Steubenville world that rape is rape.
There should be no excuse for abuse. The law should set clear, easily communicated standards that we, the public, can easily understand.
The Rape is Rape Bill does that.
We looked at Google’s search data to see what we the people search for when we enter the word rape, the most searched for term is “was I raped.” Other top search terms include man raped, boy raped, guy raped and anally raped.
“I don’t have a vagina, but I was raped as a child”
Andrew Willis, New York
Sadly both straight and gay men get raped, almost 1 in 6 of them as children, and in a state that recognises marriage equality we believe we should also recognise rape equality.
Consistency with a National Standard
After significant public consultation and debate Attorney General Eric Holder announced revisions to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape, stating that this would mean data reported on rape will better reflect state criminal codes and Victim Experiences.
The new definition of rape is: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The definition is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes. The Uniform Crime Report is well respected and nationally quoted including by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
The longstanding, narrow definition of forcible rape, first established in 1927, is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” It thus included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina and excluded oral and anal penetration; rape of males; penetration of the vagina and anus with an object or body part other than the penis; rape of females by females; and non-forcible rape.
Labeling differing forms of rape, vaginal, anal and oral rape will continue to reinforce a view of difference when in fact the root causes of the crime, power and control, and the victim impact are exactly the same.
Respect for victims
For victims like Lydia Cuomo to come to terms with being raped is hard enough, for the justice system not to recognize rape as rape is to re-victimize victims.
New York should pass the Rape is Rape Bill. The revised definition of rape sends an important message to the broad range of rape victims that they are supported and to perpetrators that they will be held accountable.
A distinction between Rape, Oral Rape and Anal Rape as proposed in last year’s Senate legislation perpetuates the intractable fallacy of “real or legitimate rape” as contrasted with violations of the mouth and anus as not real rape.
Rape is rape and it should be simply known as such.
Last year the New York State Assembly passed the bill but the Senate did not. At the urging of the state’s district attorneys, the Senate had already passed a different version of the bill that didn’t go far enough.
Fortunately this year Nassau Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice says, ‘Prosecutors want clearer, stronger rape laws and so do victims.’ She announced in an exclusive in the Daily News that she would renew the push for Lydia Cuomo’s campaign to toughen the state’s rape laws.
Our petition to redefine rape in New York State has now attracted more than 27,000 signatures.
If you have not signed it yet, please do. If you have please pass it onto a friend and ask them to do the same. Public pressure is the only way that rape laws have ever been changed.