New York’s Rape Laws Are Now Some of the Toughest in the Nation. Here’s Why

September 20, 2019, 12:35 PM UTC

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Wednesday extending the statute of limitations for survivors of rape.

Joined by a number of actresses involved with Time’s Up, such as Julianne Moore, Michelle Hurd, Amber Tamblyn, and Mira Sorvino, Cuomo signed the legislation that makes New York’s rape laws some of the toughest in the nation.

What does the bill say?

The existing statute of limitations for reporting second- and third-degree rape had been five years. Under the new law, the statute of limitations for the former is extended to 20 years, and the latter to 10 years. 

The law also extends the statute of limitations to 20 years for a criminal sexual act or incest in the second degree, to 10 years for a criminal sexual act in the third degree, and eliminates the statute of limitations entirely for incest in the first degree. Finally, victims 20 years to bring a civil suit for these offenses.

The state of New York defines rape in the second degree as sexual intercourse between a victim under 15 and a perpetrator who is 18 or older, and/or “with another person who is incapable of consent by reason of being mentally disabled or mentally incapacitated.”

Rape in the third degree, meanwhile, is defined as sexual intercourse “with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent” and/or the victim is under 17 years old and the perpetrator is over 21.

“There has been an ongoing and pervasive culture of sexual harassment and abuse in our society, and it is made worse by the fact that victims of second and third degree rape only have five years to bring a legal claim against their attacker,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Five years is an insult to these survivors and today we’re providing them more time to come to terms with the trauma they experienced and to seek justice.”

Sorvino, who has spoken publicly about being a survivor of date rape, said, “the signing of this bill is a watershed moment, a real advance in the battle against rape culture not only in New York but across the country. Because of it, more survivors can now have their rightful day in court and a chance for justice.” 

“We are here to say to survivors, you are not to blame, you are not worthless, you are not less than,” she added. “You are not dirty or damaged goods. You are not without recourse or support credibility. You are not without hope!”

Hurd noted that “it can be incredibly difficult for survivors to come forward when they’re assaulted. No longer will New York state have an unjust expiration date on justice for survivors of rape.”

The law goes into effect immediately.

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