What is Rape? You Might be Surprised to Learn the Answer

Lydia Cuomo
Lydia Cuomo

By Dawn Cranfield

What is Rape? You Might be Surprised to Learn the Answer

Support the “Rape is Rape Bill, the Story of Lydia Cuomo

Bronx schoolteacher Lydia Cuomo was excited to start her new job as an elementary schoolteacher on August 19, 2011; she was waiting for the schools’ principal to pick her up when she was assaulted at gunpoint by a drunken off-duty police officer, Michael Pena.   It was approximately 6:15 a.m. when Pena asked Cuomo for directions to the subway.

Pena unexpectedly directed his service handgun at Cuomo and threated to kill the teacher, screaming that he “was going to ‘blow your f****** face off’.” (dailymail.co)

Cuomo was dragged into a courtyard and Pena forced anal and oral sex on her.

In March of 2012, Pena was brought to trial on charges of the attack.  While the jury did find him guilty of sexual assault for oral and anal sodomy, the jury failed to convict him of rape or predatory sexual assault.  The jury was hung.  Cuomo was devastated by the results of the trial and felt victimized and raped again.

Despite the fact that a doctor testified there was evidence of a rape, two of the jurors failed to convict because “if Miss Cuomo couldn’t recall the color of a car directly opposite the alley where she was attacked, then how could she be sure she was penetrated.” (dailymail.co)

“New York State defines rape as only vaginal penetration and not forced oral and anal sex.” (dailymail.co)

In June 2012, Pena admitted to raping Cuomo and took a plea deal to avoid another trial.  He received 75-years to life for the sexual

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas

assault and another 10 years for the deal.

However, the fact that he would most likely never see the light of day was not enough for Cuomo; the wording in the case is important to her, and to future victims.

Cuomo is at the heart of Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas’ “Rape is Rape” legislation.  Assembly Bill 3339 and Senate Bill S06877 are asking that rape be redefined to include all forcible sexual acts.

“Lydia’s story illustrates the heart of what we are trying to accomplish by passing this legislation – it is truly about the victims; more than anything, the law must be responsive to them,” says Simotas. (dailymail.co)

On causes.com, there is a petition with 20,496 signatures at last count supporting the Bill.

Simotas’ bill is not the only option before the legislature at this time, though; Senator Catharine Young has proposed a bill to lower the burden of proof for rape.  While Simotas and Cuomo back the newer proposed bill, they were surprised when Young withdrew her support of the original bill and offered one that would not include a provision for forced anal or oral sex acts.

Young’s bill would allow for rape to include vaginal contact and not only actual penetration.  However, anal and oral sex would still be classified as criminal sex acts.

Simotas does not believe Young’s bill is adequate for protecting victim’s rights, “I say ask a survivor what forced oral sex is called. Picture for yourself a man forcing his penis into your mouth, your brother or your sister’s mouth, your daughter or your son’s mouth.  Is this a criminal sexual act?  The clear answer is-no, this is rape.”  (nydailynews.com)


Michael Pena
Michael Pena

When Simotas explains it so bluntly, you would think New York officials would understand it and redefine rape accordingly.

As for Cuomo, she says, “The more I talk about it, the more power I take over it.  Rape is about power. For me, it was a loss of power.”




To sign the petition, go here:



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