ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York will expand its legal definition of rape to include various forms of nonconsensual sexual contact, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday.
The state’s current limited definition was a factor in writer E. Jean Carroll’s sexual abuse and defamation case against former President Donald Trump. The jury in the federal civil trial rejected the writer’s claim last May that Trump had raped her in the 1990s, instead finding the former president responsible for a lesser degree of sexual abuse.
The current law defines rape as vaginal penetration by a penis. The new law broadens the definition to include nonconsensual anal, oral, and vaginal sexual contact. Highlighting Carroll's case at a bill signing ceremony in Albany, the Democratic governor said the new definition will make it easier for rape victims to bring cases forward to prosecute perpetrators. The law will apply to sexual assaults committed on or after Sept. 1.
“The problem is, rape is very difficult to prosecute," Hochul said. “Physical technicalities confuse jurors and humiliate survivors and create a legal gray area that defendants exploit.”
In Carroll's case against Trump, which stemmed from an encounter at a Manhattan luxury department store, the judge later said that the jury’s decision was based on “the narrow, technical meaning” of rape in New York penal law and that, in his analysis, the verdict did not mean that Carroll “failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’”
While various states define rape in different ways, every state criminalizes oral, anal, and vaginal sexual contact that is nonconsensual, according to Sandi Johnson, a senior legislative policy counsel at Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Prior to its new law, New York defined penetration of the vagina or other bodily orifices with anything other than a penis as “sexual abuse” rather than “rape.”
Many other states continue to place unwanted oral or anal sexual contact in a category other than rape.
Johnson said New York's new guidelines validate what has happened to survivors. Calling a criminal sexual act anything other than rape “kind of sanitizes it,” she said.
At Tuesday's bill signing, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who sponsored the legislation, said the new changes would also make it easier for members of the LGBTQ community to hold perpetrators of sex crimes accountable.
“We can’t have our laws ignore the reality that so many New Yorkers, particularly LGBTQ New Yorkers, among others, have experienced,” the Democrat said.
“Before today, many of those assaults wouldn’t be able to be classified as rape in New York state," he said. “But now we fixed that language."
Associated Press writer Mike Sisak contributed to this report.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.