Remember when U.S. Rep. Todd Akin was roundly criticized for making insensitive comments about “legitimate rape” last year? He lost his House seat as a result.
But the problem runs deeper, even into our statute books. As a horrific New York case shows, even liberal states are behind the times in their legal definitions of what constitutes rape.
Lydia Cuomo was about to start the first day of her dream job, teaching second graders, when she was abducted at 6:15 a.m. and raped at gunpoint by an off-duty police officer. Michael Pena, her attacker, forced oral and anal sex upon her. At Pena’s trial, Cuomo (no relation to the governor) was shocked to discover that those acts do not constitute rape under state law, which requires vaginal penetration. Cuomo is now campaigning to change the law, to recognize that “rape is rape.”
Only eight states currently define forced vaginal, oral or anal sex to be rape. While all forcible sex acts are criminal in New York and elsewhere as “sexual assault” or similar crimes and carry varying penalties, using the right terminology matters. Victims who have the courage to prosecute want the perpetrator to be called what he is — a rapist.
And nonconsensual acts performed on men should also be called what they are — rapes.
After much lobbying by women’s and victims’ rights groups, just last year the FBI updated its eighty year old definition of rape to include oral, anal and vaginal violations – any perpetrator, against any victim. Words matter in gathering crime statistics, and in allocation of resources to rape prevention programs.
Changing the law to reflect the reality that rape is rape legitimizes all rape victims, and is long overdue.