Governor Kathy Hochul of New York approved legislation known as the “Rape is Rape Act” on Tuesday, January 30th, broadening the legal parameters of rape within the state.
Under the previous legal framework, rape was narrowly defined as vaginal penetration by a penis. However, the updated version now encompasses additional forms of non-consensual intimate contact. Governor Hochul remarked during the bill signing in Albany that the broader definition will enable more victims to pursue legal action against their assailants. Despite being recently signed, the law will be effective for assaults occurring on or after September 1st of the current year.
The inception of the “Rape is Rape Act” traces back to its introduction to the New York State Assembly in 2012. This initiative followed a harrowing incident where an elementary school teacher fell victim to rape by an off-duty NYPD officer named Michael Pena. Despite facing charges of rape and subsequent dismissal from the force, Pena was convicted on lesser offenses due to the jury’s inability to reach a unanimous decision regarding forced vaginal penetration.
Hochul emphasized a notable recent incident involving former President Donald Trump, who faced allegations of rape from writer E. Jean Carroll. During the trial held in federal court, the jury opted not to convict Trump of rape stemming from an encounter that allegedly took place in 1996 at a high-end department store in Manhattan.
The judge in the trial criticized New York’s specific and technical definition of rape according to the law. However, the judge clarified that the jury’s verdict didn’t imply that Carroll couldn’t support her allegations of Trump raping her in a manner consistent with how most people commonly interpret the term “rape.”
Advocacy organizations such as the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network praised the introduction of the new law. Sandi Johnson, a senior legislative policy counselor at the organization, stated that the updated definition acknowledges the experiences of rape survivors. She suggested that describing a traumatic event as anything less than rape diminishes its severity.