Assemblywoman Takes Aim At New York's Rape Laws In Light of Pena Conviction
Following a jury's failure to convict Michael Pena, the NYPD officer on trial for allegedly sexually attacking a teacher at gunpoint while off-duty, of rape, the New York Daily News reports that Queens Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas wants to introduce a bill that would broaden the state's definition of rape and therefore harder for people like Pena to avoid that conviction. Pena was found guilty on Tuesday of criminal sexual assault and predatory sexual assault. That said, the jury could not reach a verdict on two counts of rape, and on Wednesday a judge declared a mistrial.
To find Pena guilt of rape, the jury would have had to agree that Pena vaginally penetrated the victim. According to the New York Times, the criminal sexual assault charge on which he was convicted "did not require proof of penetration," and the predatory sexual assault charge was included because of Pena's use of a gun.
The lack of a rape conviction certainly does not mean that Pena completely got away with his actions. Take for instance the DA office's reaction to a story on the Atlantic Wire:
The Manhattan District Attorney's office took issue with last line of our story, calling it unfair because the charges on which they won a conviction, three counts of predatory sexual assault, are actually more serious than rape. "To say the prosecutor didn't win this conviction was just wrong," DA spokeswoman Erin Duggan said. Predatory sexual assault is a Class A felony while rape is a Class B felony. In Pena's case, he was convicted of predatory sexual assault because he forced himself on his victim at gunpoint. "Predatory sexual assault is different," Duggan said. "He assaulted anally, vaginally, and orally. The vaginal attack is what was hung up in the jury."
However, as Jen Doll notes at that same publication: "while these may be semantic discussions, they are still very important ones: Rape is a word that means quite a lot in the layperson's mind; predatory sexual assault is less understood."
The importance of the word "rape" seems to be what Simotas is getting at, but her argument goes beyond the details of the case that gave the jury reasonable doubt. She wants to redefine what constitutes rape. According to the Daily News:
Simotas said Friday she would introduce a bill to define rape as sexual conduct -- rather than just intercourse.
She would also add oral, anal and aggravated sexual assault to the list of rape offenses.
"Common sense dictates that what happened to the victim was rape," Simotas said.
We called Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women to ask about the impact of this widening definition. Pappas was cited as having "praised" Simotas in the Daily News.
"It should not be that the only time that someone is accused of rape is if there's penal penetration only because there are other ways that people are raped not just with penile penetration," she told Runnin' Scared. She said that Simotas' proposals as described by the Daily News are "definitely something that needs to be looked at because we can't just say that only intercourse constitutes rape."
For his conviction, Pena could face life in prison.
Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.