On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation broadening the state’s definition of rape, eliminating the penile penetration requirement. The bill, “Rape Is Rape,” expands the law to include nonconsensual anal, oral, and vaginal sexual contact. Starting in September, New York will be like many other states: The penal code will not limit rape to only forced vaginal penetration by a penis.
That narrow definition of rape has been key in the legal battle between E. Jean Carroll and former president Donald Trump. Last year, Carroll sued Trump, saying that he had raped her in 1996 and then defamed her by denying the accusations. (She was able to do so because of another bill that Gov. Hochul signed into law—the Adult Survivors Act, which granted victims a one-time window in New York to file a civil case against an abuser or institution that protected the abuser, regardless of when the assault took place.)
In May, a jury sided with Carroll and said that Trump had sexually assaulted her in a Manhattan dressing room. Carroll has held throughout the case that Trump used both his fingers and his penis in this assault. But the jury did not side in favor of the latter claim. Under the old language in New York’s penal code, this meant the initial jurors could not say Trump raped Carroll.
But as District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who presided over the case has explained, the jury did find that Trump “deliberately and forcibly penetrated Ms. Carroll’s vagina with his fingers, causing immediate pain and long lasting emotional and psychological harm.”
And, as I recently reported, Judge Kaplan has gone to great lengths to make one thing clear: Just because the law had a narrow definition of what rape is, doesn’t mean that Trump is not a rapist. The juror’s decision, Kaplan clarified, “does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’” “Indeed,” he continued, “as the evidence at trial recounted below makes clear, the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”
After the decision, Trump, and his allies, have used this distinction to rail against the court system. Following the May decision, Trump filed counterclaims against Carroll in June, saying that she had defamed him by continuing to use the word “Rape” after a jury had found him not liable. Kaplan dismissed the attempt.
This past week in the latest decision in this multi-layered case, jurors took only three hours to decide that Trump had indeed defamed Carroll and should pay her $83.3 million.
“I couldn’t help but notice a reoccurring theme in the headlines, influential men abusing their positions of power to inflict pain on women,” Governor Hochul, whose predecessor was found by the DOJ this week to have sexually harassed 13 employees, said in her speech on Tuesday after signing the expanded definition of rape into law. “And though she couldn’t be here with us today, I want to take a moment to recognize E. Jean Carroll for her courageous efforts to make sure justice was done.”