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Teacher Assaulted By Off-Duty Cop Wants Albany To Change Rape Laws

Lydia Cuomo Speaking Out After Being Attacked By Michael Pena Last Year
Lydia Cuomo

Lydia Cuomo, who was attacked at gunpoint by an off-duty police officer last year, is headed to Albany to talk to lawmakers about changing the meaning of the word “rape.” (Credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Bronx school teacher, attacked at gunpoint by an off-duty police officer last year, wants the state to change its rape laws.

Allowing her name to be used for the first time, Lydia Cuomo, 26, is headed to Albany to talk to lawmakers about changing the meaning of the word “rape.”

Lydia Cuomo — no relation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo — wants forced anal and oral sex to be classified as rape under the law.

“Right is right,” Lydia Cuomo told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider. “And he raped me at the end of the day, and he’s not being called a rapist. He is a rapist, and you need to call rape, rape.”

Cuomo said those two acts right now fall under the umbrella words of “sexual assault” and she said that is erroneous because it makes it sound like the attack wasn’t so bad.

“Sexual assault sounds so vague and I don’t think the word ‘sexual’ should be involved in it at all.  There’s nothing sexual about it — detest, disgusting violation of someone,” Cuomo told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria.

Michael Pena, a former New York City cop, was convicted of forcing anal and oral sex on Cuomo at gunpoint, but he was not convicted of rape — though he admitted to rape months after a jury deadlocked on the charge.

Michael Pena (file / credit: CBS2)

Michael Pena (file / credit: CBS2)

“It put me in one of the worst places I’d been since the attack happened,” Cuomo told Schneider.

Pena was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for predatory sex assault and other charges. In addition, Pena was also sentenced to 10 years to life after admitting to rape.

Cuomo said she wants Pena called a rapist because she said that is what he is, and it’s not just a question of semantics.

“Survivors and victims who had this happen to them, your mind plays a lot of tricks on you. You go back to those moments over and over and over again and it doesn’t help when legally the terminology surrounding it is not what you want to call it,” Cuomo said.

New York State law defines rape only as vaginal penetration.

“You just assume that those things are rape,” she said. “I don’t I’d ever thought, like, ‘Oh the sodomy, that’s not going to be rape,’ because in my mind it very clearly was.”

Cuomo is also looking to be a voice for rape survivors.

“It is my story,” she said. “I think rape is about power, and it’s about control, and being able to speak about it, for me, gives me power over my story.”

The attack blindsided Cuomo in August 2011. She was waiting in Inwood, Manhattan, for a ride to the Bronx charter school where she was supposed to begin her first day as a teacher.

At 6:15 a.m., the off-duty police officer, who had spent a night drinking and trying to pick up women, came up to Cuomo and held a gun to her head. He dragged her into the courtyard of a nearby apartment building, and sexually assaulted her.

Pena threatened to shoot her in the face if she resisted, she testified.

“You can’t actually fathom that this thing has happened. It’s very hard to be like, I was just raped,” Cuomo said. “I mean, I called my mom from the ambulance and told her that, which I’m sure is every mother’s nightmare call to get at 7 o’clock in the morning.”

A building resident heard what was happening and called police.

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