Governor Signs Sexual Assault Reform Act
Empire State Pride Agenda Press Release, October 19, 2000
New York, New York With todays signing of the Sexual
Assault Reform Act by Governor Pataki, New York States "consensual sodomy"
statute is being consigned to the dustbin of history. As important, the new law commits
the legislature to revamping the penal laws antiquated classification of sexual
assaults. This will result in the elimination of the terms such as "sodomy" and
"deviate sexual intercourse" from the states criminal laws.
"Were thrilled that New Yorks approach to sexual assault is coming out
of the dark ages and that these offensive, misleading and stigmatizing terms will be going
out the door," said Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride
Agenda. "We thank our victim advocate allies for pushing so hard for this
long-overdue change in the law, and commend the Governor, Speaker Silver and Majority
Leader Bruno for their non-partisan approach to this issue."
New York becomes the 26th state (along with the District of Columbia) to repeal its
consensual sodomy laws through legislative action. Illinois was the first state to do so
in 1962. Before New York, Rhode Island was the last state to do so, in 1998.
The new law repeals a long-standing thorn in the gay communitys side - the
consensual sodomy statute. This provision (which outlawed oral and anal sex between all
unmarried persons) was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeal in 1980, but
nonetheless has remained on the books. "This is more than a great symbolic victory
it will also stop the isolated instances in which police use the statute to target
gay couples they find in lovers lanes," Foreman said, adding that while
these charges are not prosecuted, individuals are frequently compelled to plead to some
In a never-before seen move, the measure puts into law the Legislatures intent to
establish the single offense category of Criminal Sexual Assault, to encompass the various
types of criminal acts now falling under Rape, Sodomy and other nomenclature. The law
states that the Legislature "intends to modernize and consolidate such language in
subsequent legislation." The parties to the negotiations indicated this would be done
before February 1, 2001, when the other provisions of the law take effect.
Unlike the federal government and the majority of states, New York law currently
differentiates sexual assaults on the basis of the bodily organ involved and what is used
to commit the offense. For example, Rape is charged when the assault involves a penis;
Sodomy charges come from assaults where there is oral or anal sexual contact (defined as
"deviate sexual intercourse"). Because of this terminology, when most people now
read about a crime involving "sodomy," they assume the victim was raped anally.
In reality, most charges of sodomy under current law involve oral sex.
Foreman said that rape counselors and assistant district attorneys agree that survivors
find the terms sodomy and deviate sexual intercourse humiliating
and offensive. Some survivors have refused to go forward with a prosecution out of concern
over the use of these terms in pre-trial publicity or on the stand.
"No sexual assault survivor will ever again be further humiliated by reading in
the papers that she was sodomized or re-victimized by having to take the stand
and admit that she engaged in deviate sexual intercourse, Foreman said.
The states leading sexual assault victim advocates, including the New York State
Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault,
made the repeal of offensive and antiquated terminology one of their top priorities among
a broad range of needed reforms. The Pride Agenda provided technical assistance, strategic
advice, media relations and financial support to the effort.
"Weve wanted to get rid of this stigmatizing language for years - we know
firsthand how it pains sexual assault survivors, whether they are gay or straight,"
said Susan Xenarios, Director of the St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victim
Treatment Center and Co-Chair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims. "This was
a great collaborative effort between the victim advocate and gay communities."
"We extend our gratitude and appreciation to Anne Liske, Harriet Lessel, Susan
Xenarios, and Judy Condo, for including this reform in their priorities for victims,"
Foreman said. "The epidemic of sexual assault afflicts every community, and we are
proud to be associated with these extraordinary leaders and the significant reforms they
have achieved through this legislation."
Founded in 1990, the Empire State Pride Agenda is New Yorks statewide,
non-partisan lesbian and gay political advocacy organization. Its mission is to end
discrimination and prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation. The Pride Agenda fights
for equal rights under the law by lobbying state and local elected officials, electing
supportive candidates to office, organizing constituent pressure, and educating the
public. With 25,000 supporters statewide, it has offices and staff in Albany, Buffalo,
Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, and Rochester.
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