Victim trying to get rape definition changed

February 11, 2013 3:24:35 PM PST
Eyewitness News doesn't usually identify rape victims, but in this case the brave woman is identifying herself.

Lydia Cuomo is a school teacher who was raped at gunpoint by a New York City police officer and is now on a mission to change the legal definition of rape.

Imagine being sexually assaulted and you know its rape, but then you hear a jury quibble over the language.

Lydia Cuomo is now determined to make sure other victims of rape, including men, don't have to endure the same indignity, once by the attacker and the second time by the legal system.

"When you heard he wasn't convicted of rape, what went through your mind?" Eyewitness News Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace asked.

"First you're numb," Lydia Cuomo said.

25-year-old Lydia Cuomo couldn't believe that moment in March of 2012 when a jury failed to convict the off-duty cop of raping the young teacher.

Michael Pena had sexually assaulted and sodomized Cuomo repeatedly at gunpoint after dragging her into an Inwood courtyard, and the jury convicted him of those charges, but could not agree on the rape charge.

There was a mistrial on that.

"Clearly you were raped," Wallace said.

"Right, right. I knew I had been raped and I had this jury say, 'Well, it wasn't really rape, it was sexual assault.' But there was still this kind of unresolved idea that he's going to prison, but not as a rapist. And, every sort of part of my being said that was wrong because I had been raped," Cuomo said.

Just before a second trial, Pena did plead guilty to rape, and was sentenced to 75 years.

Cuomo is now pushing for a law that would expand the rape statute to include deviant sexual acts like sodomy.

"His face and his picture will forever haunt me. It's never going to be something that I'm OK seeing. And I have this opportunity to take this negative thing and make it positive, so it's definitely just something I want to continue to do," Cuomo said.

Cuomo will be speaking out in Albany Tuesday in support of a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas that would expand the rape statute.

Cuomo is back teaching second grade and is doing incredibly well.

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