Governor Hochul Signs Bill Expanding the Legal Definition of Rape

Photo by Mike Groll, Courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Kathy Hochul signs legislation redefining rape to better protect sexual assault survivors. The bill expands upon what is legally considered rape to include forms of nonconsensual sexual contact other than vaginal penetration.

On Tuesday, Jan. 30, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law expanding the legal definition of rape to include a number of different types of nonconsensual sexual contact in New York state. 

Prior to the signing of Legislation S.3161/A.3340, the law described rape as only vaginal penetration by a penis. This led to a problem in the courts where survivors of what would be widely considered rape did not get justice from the crimes commit against them. Now the law includes nonconsensual vaginal, oral and anal contact.

“Roughly 90 percent of rape survivors are women. The problem is, rape is very difficult to prosecute,” Gov. Hochul said before the bill signing. “That’s because New York’s archaic laws define rape in very narrow terms. Physical technicalities confuse jurors and humiliate survivors and create a legal gray area that defendants exploit.”

The bill now offers a more clear avenue for survivors in the LGBTQ+ community to seek justice. “[The LGBTQ+ community] has been too long ignored when it comes to prosecution under our New York state rape statutes,” Gov. Hochul said. “Justice denied for too long.”

Senate sponsor of the bill, Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D-Manhattan, said, “In the LBGT community, people experience sexual assault and rape at disturbingly high rates.”

“Nearly half of transgender people in this country are sexually assaulted. The numbers are the same for bisexual women and gay men,” he said. “But before today, many of those assaults wouldn’t be able to be classified as rape in New York state if the genetalia of the victim and the attacker didn’t exactly line up.”

Assembly sponsor of the bill Catalina Cruz, D-Jackson Heights, continued fighting for the bill after former Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas drafted it during her time as a state legislator. 

“Our law has failed survivors,” Cruz said. “Forced sexual contact against your will, whether it involved a vagina, anus or mouth is an absolute violation of self, calling it anything other than rape negates what we as survivors have endured”

Instances of rape that were not recognized as rape before this bill like nonconsensual oral or anal contact were considered “criminal sexual acts” and not rape. With broader and more inclusive wording rape can be prosecuted more fairly.