New York Must Broaden the Legal Definition of Rape

Target: Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver

Goal: Expand the legal definition of rape in New York to include all nonconsensual sexual acts

New York State lawmakers recently proposed a bill that would broaden the legal definition of rape to include nonconsensual sexual acts other than vaginal rape. Under the current law, other forced sexual acts are considered sexual assault or criminal sexual acts, and those guilty of committing those crimes cannot be convicted of rape. Rape survivors deserve to have their attackers called rapists, instead of being told that what they have experienced is not legally considered rape.

The proposed bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas after learning about a woman named Lydia Cuomo whose rapist was convicted of sexual assault instead of rape because there was no proof of vaginal penetration. The woman was raped at gunpoint by a NYPD officer, but because the evidence could only prove that the officer forced her to have anal and oral sex, the crime was not legally considered rape. The new law would include vaginal contact in the definition of rape, instead of requiring proof of penetration. Cuomo has started speaking with New York lawmakers in hopes of convincing them to pass this legislation.

The FBI recently updated its definition of rape to include nonconsensual anal and oral sex, in addition to removing the requirement that the victim be female, and taking out the language specifying that nonconsensual acts must be forced to be considered rape. Although this change will result in more accurate crime statistics, it has no bearing on state laws, and most states still legally define rape too narrowly.

New York’s current legal definition of rape reflects the archaic idea that it is only a crime because the rapist is stealing a woman’s virginity, which used to be thought of as belonging to her father or husband. The widely accepted modern definition acknowledges that rape is a violent crime, and that the type of nonconsensual sexual act is irrelevant. By working to encourage lawmakers to support this “Rape is Rape” bill, Lydia Cuomo hopes to help others speak more openly about the subject and ensure that rapists are given appropriate sentences for their crimes. Urge New York legislators to update the state law to reflect a more accurate definition of rape.


Dear Sheldon Silver,

A bill was recently introduced by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas that would expand the legal definition of rape to include nonconsensual anal and oral sex. The law currently defines rape as forced vaginal sex and labels other types of nonconsensual sexual acts as mere sexual assault.

This legal definition does not reflect the widely accepted cultural definition of rape, and it allows rapists to get away with rape without being labeled rapists. The FBI has now updated its definition of rape to include all nonconsensual sexual acts, as have several states.

This antiquated definition of rape discourages people from taking rape seriously and recognizing the severity of the crime. Please encourage your fellow lawmakers to support Assemblywoman Simota’s bill to ensure that rapists are appropriately punished for their crimes.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: ctrouper via Flickr.

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