New York will expand its legal definition of rape to include various forms of nonconsensual sexual contact, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday.
The current law defines rape as vaginal penetration by a penis. The new law broadens the definition to include nonconsensual anal, oral and vaginal sexual contact.
“Our law failed to understand the reality of sexual assault,” said bill co-sponsor state Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. “Sexual contact against your will whether it involves the vagina, anus, or mouth is an absolute violation of your trust and calling it anything other than rape negates what we as survivors have endured.”
Additionally, co-sponsor state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal says the law is crucial in prosecuting crimes against members of the LGBTQ community that could not have been considered rape under the previous law
“Studies have shown that nearly half of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, the numbers are similar for bisexual women and gay men,” he said.
Hochul says she signed the legislation to ensure both healing for victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.
“It’s about calling out violent horrific acts for what they are so survivors can reclaim their power and dignity, and it’s about backing them with the full force of our justice system,” she said. “The problem is, rape is very difficult to prosecute. Physical technicalities confuse jurors and humiliate survivors and create a legal gray area that defendants exploit.”
It’s an issue that Cruz says is personal.
“As a survivor, it was very difficult to get on that floor and explain to people why what happened to us had to be recognized as rape,” she said.
The state’s current limited definition was a factor in writer E. Jean Carroll’s sexual abuse and defamation case against former President Donald Trump. The jury in the federal civil trial rejected the writer’s claim last May that Trump had raped her in the 1990s, instead finding the former president responsible for a lesser degree of sexual abuse.
In Carroll's case against Trump, which stemmed from an encounter at a Manhattan luxury department store, the judge later said that the jury’s decision was based on “the narrow, technical meaning” of rape in New York penal law and that, in his analysis, the verdict did not mean that Carroll “failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’”
The law will take effect Sept. 1 and will apply to any offense committed on or after that date.