For a year and a half she’s been identified only as the 25-year-old teacher who was sexually assaulted at gunpoint by former NYPD officer Michael Pena, but now Lydia Cuomo is going public in an effort to change the law that initially prevented her from getting a rape conviction. Pena was convicted of lesser sexual assault charges for forcing Cuomo into anal and oral sex, since under New York law there must be evidence of vaginal penetration for a rape conviction. “I feel like essentially I had a silver platter of a rape case,” Cuomo tells the Daily News. “I had witnesses, I had DNA, I had my own testimony, I had two cops. I had them saying, ‘We admit he sexually assaulted you,’ and I didn’t get the verdict I needed the first time, and that just highlights to me the problem in the system.”
In response to the case, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas introduced a bill that would add forced anal and oral sex to the state’s definition of rape, but it went nowhere. On Tuesday, Cuomo (who isn’t related to the governor) is going to Albany to push other lawmakers to support the broader definition, which is already the law in eight other states. “Anal’s not rape?” said Cuomo. “On what planet do you live? It never occurred to us that that’s not rape.”
Pena eventually pleaded guilty to rape, adding 10 years to his sentence of 75 years to life, and New York’s rape statutes weren’t the only issue in the case. It was later revealed that one of the jurors knew the D.A. and focused on bizarre points like Cuomo’s inability to remember the color of a car near where she was attacked. While changing the law wouldn’t affect her case, Cuomo says working to take something positive from the experience is helping her get past it. “A lot of change needs to happen around rape and the word ‘rape’ and this is my way of doing it,” Cuomo said.