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TW! Survivor of brutal attack by police officer heads to Albany to expand state's definition of...

8:14 am - 02/12/2013
**TRIGGER WARNING** Survivor of brutal attack by police officer heads to Albany to expand state's definition of 'rape'



Survivor of brutal attack by police officer heads to Albany to expand state's definition of 'rape' to include forced oral and anal sex: 'Rape is rape'

It's been nearly a year since a schoolteacher sat in a Manhattan courthouse and learned that parts of a gunpoint sexual assault she endured at the hands of a city cop were not considered rape.

Lydia Cuomo, using her name and speaking out in her first major interview since the attack on Aug. 19, 2011, was the young woman dragged into a courtyard in Inwood and brutalized as she waited for a ride to work.

It was supposed to be her first day at her dream job, teaching second-graders at a Bronx charter school. Michael Pena, a drunken off-duty cop, asked her for directions to the subway about 6:15 a.m., as she waited for her principal to pick her up.

Suddenly, the predator pointed his department-issued 9-mm handgun at Cuomo’s face. Then Pena threatened to kill the teacher before violating her in every way imaginable. The cop was convicted at trial last year of forcing anal and oral sex on Cuomo — but not of rape.

Now Cuomo, 26, is fighting back. She’s lending her voice to a legislative effort to change state law to put forced oral and anal sex under New York’s rape statute.

“I feel like essentially I had a silver platter of a rape case,” she told 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.”

The verdict led to a News front page demanding “What does a woman have to do to prove she was raped?”

Cuomo still has that front page.

As she focuses on the battle in Albany, Cuomo recalled the joy of landing the Bronx teaching gig. As her start date approached, she was so happy about the job that she could barely sleep.

“I was ecstatic,” Cuomo told The News. “I can’t tell you how excited I was the night before.”

Hours later, her life would be changed forever .

When the case came to trial last year, Cuomo was shocked to learn that New York state requires vaginal penetration for a rape conviction. The other assaults against Cuomo were criminal and predatory sex charges under the law — not rape.

In a 20-minute interview with The News last week, Cuomo said she was going public in an attempt to urge Albany to ensure that “rape is rape.”

Cuomo is set to travel to Albany on Tuesday to speak out in favor of a bill by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens) that would add forced oral and anal sex to the state’s rape statutes. The bill, after being first introduced last year by Simotas in response to the Cuomo case, went nowhere.

An incredulous Cuomo — no relation to the governor — doesn’t understand the holdup.

“Anal’s not rape?” she asked. “On what planet do you live? It never occurred to us that that’s not rape.”

Eight states consider forced vaginal, oral or anal sex to be rape.

“New York lags behind such liberal bastions as South Dakota and Tennessee in how we define rape,” Simotas said sarcastically. “New York should be at the forefront to protect crime victims.”

Cuomo wants to use what happened to her to spur lawmakers to act this year. The legislative push is also part of her healing process.

“I think this is part of my way of moving on,” she says. “I think I was given this opportunity to take this horrible, painful and negative thing and make it positive.”

Cuomo grew up in a small town in New Hampshire with dreams of teaching young kids in New York. She graduated in 2007 with a degree in history and a minor in politics from Keene State College in her home state.

“I told my dad my senior (year) in college, ‘I don’t think I want to go to law school. I want to teach in the Bronx,’ ” she recalled proudly.

She taught for two years in Boston before moving to New York to pursue her goal.

Teaching jobs were tough to find. But after a failed stint as a nanny, she landed a job in Harlem teaching fourth-graders. In August 2011 — just weeks before she was attacked — Cuomo got the Bronx charter school job.

Cuomo returned to work just two weeks after the attack, taking time off last year to attend the trial.

Pena, 28, who joined the NYPD in 2008 and has since been fired, was convicted on multiple sex charges. But despite Pena’s semen being found on Cuomo’s underwear and a doctor testifying it appeared she had been raped, a hung jury did not convict on the rape charges.

In a bizarre twist, sources said a holdout juror didn’t vote for conviction because Cuomo did not recall the color of a nearby car during the attack.

Last week, she recounted how she sat nervously with her family in the 15th-floor office of the district attorney that day last March when she found out the 12-person jury couldn’t agree that she had been raped — an option she said never once entered her mind as a possibility.

“When we found out the reason why, it just seemed so ludicrous to me,” Cuomo now says. “I think, quite frankly, it’s insulting.”

“Ultimately I was being told, ‘Oh, you were anally raped and orally raped, but we don’t believe you were raped; you were sexually assaulted.’”

Three months later, Cuomo was spared from sitting through a second trial when Pena, who had already begun serving his sentence, pleaded guilty to two rape charges. He was sentenced to 10 years to life in addition to the 75 years to life he got for his conviction on the other charges.

Cuomo said she recognizes that her attacker would have gone away for a long time whether or not he was found to have legally raped her.

But the wording makes a difference to victims, she says.

“A lot of change needs to happen around rape and the word 'rape' and this is my way of doing it,” Cuomo said.

She said she was surprised the Legislature didn’t act on the bill last year when it was first introduced by Simotas and state Sen. Catharine Young (R-Cattaraugus County).

“It seems so simple to me,” Cuomo said. “If you say it out loud, how do you oppose it?”

While her family suggested after the attack that she might be better off returning home to small-town New Hampshire, Cuomo showed her New York toughness by deciding to keep her dream job in the Bronx.

“I worked so hard to get where I am,” she said. “Even then, I was like ‘He’s not taking this from me.’ ”

She said working with her second-graders was “therapeutic,” although not surprisingly, thoughts of the attack still “come and go.”

Going to Albany this week to fight for a stronger rape law is another way of putting her life back together.

With her parents, family and friends by her side, the admittedly nervous but excited Cuomo will attend a news conference with Simotas and meet privately with about a half-dozen legislators.

“The more I talk about it, the more power I take over it,” she says bravely. “Rape is about power. For me, it was a loss of power.

“This is my story. The more I speak out about it, the more I own it. It’s mine.”

Source

OP: This is a somewhat longish article (three pages at source) with pictures and all that. It's not horribly long but just a heads up.
freeze_i_say 12th-Feb-2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
This woman is amazing and what she's doing is nothing short of heroic <3

"But despite Pena’s semen being found on Cuomo’s underwear and a doctor testifying it appeared she had been raped, a hung jury did not convict on the rape charges. In a bizarre twist, sources said a holdout juror didn’t vote for conviction because Cuomo did not recall the color of a nearby car during the attack."

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