State Senate passes Rape Victims Equality Act

In a move widely backed by lawmakers and advocacy groups, the state Senate recently passed legislation that broadens the classification of rape.

The Rape Victims Equality Act, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean, changes the legal definition of rape from penetration to contact. Young said the change came after a school teacher in 2011 was raped by an off-duty New York City Police officer at gunpoint.

The officer, Michael Pena, was charged with rape. However, a jury allegedly could not reach a verdict because three jurors contended that penetration could not be proven.

Pena later pleaded guilty to the rape, and was also convicted on several counts of violent sexual assault and using a gun in a crime.

The legislation was backed by the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York and the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.

“This bill ensures that our state has the most effective and comprehensive statute in the country to prosecute violent sexual assault crimes,” Young said.

“We need to bring criminals to justice with the strongest penalties possible. This bill makes important changes to the law that help victims and give prosecutors the tools that they need to keep convicted sexual offenders behind bars.”

Prosecutors in the past had to prove vaginal penetration for rape convictions. The law, Young said, also renames the criminal sex acts of anal and oral sexual assault as “anal rape” and “oral rape,” with the same standard and penalties that currently exist under state law.

Young said outside support of the law helped its passage.

“Input from both the district attorneys and victims’ advocacy groups has been invaluable in producing this bill,” she said. “Their expertise has helped to guide us toward the best possible solution. I am hopeful that we can come to an agreement with the Assembly so these important changes become law.

“We owe it to every victim of sexual assault to strengthen our laws to keep these predators off our streets and out of our neighborhoods.”