Sexual Assault in New York

last updated July 2012

New York is faced with combating the growing national problem presented by sexual assault. The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates that the average cost for each sexual assault is $110,000. This amount represents $500 in short term medical care, $2,400 in mental health services, $2,200 in lost productivity, and $104,900 in pain and suffering. These figures illustrate the extent of impact that sexual assault has on a woman’s life.
 
Recent surveys also reveal that sexual assault among New York’s teenage population is alarmingly high. In June of 2008, it was reported that 16.2% of NYC teenagers reported experiencing sexual violence. Nationwide reported rates range from 7% to 10.2%.
 
New York’s sex offense laws are codified under Penal Law, Article 130. The Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA) was passed in 2000. This Act enacted sweeping changes in the state’s rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse laws.
 
Rape in New York
New York Penal Law §§ 130.25130.30, and 130.35 define the offenses of rape in the third, second, and first degrees respectively. While every degree of rape is a felony, the higher degrees of rape provide lengthier sentences. Typically, higher degrees of rape are reserved for those cases involving younger victims or forcible compulsion. In 2011, 2,736 rapes were reported. Of course, the great reduction of reported crimes since 1990 suggests that the actual number of rapes, and crimes in general, occurring in the state each year is much higher.
 
While the state’s goal is to eliminate rape altogether, the reality remains that this is a difficult task. To assist those in need, the state has 77 rape crisis centers that provide help to thousands of women in need every year.  In 2010, the center provided services to over 35,000 people through hotline calls, individual and group counseling, and victim advocacy in legal and medical institutions. Rape crisis services and information is available through the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
 
Informed Consent
In the context of rape, Penal Law § 130.05(2)(d) codifies SARA’s new and expanded definition of informed consent: “in addition to forcible compulsion, circumstances under which, at the time of the act of intercourse, oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct, the victim clearly expressed that he or she did not consent to engage in such act, and a reasonable person in the actor's situation would have understood such person's words and acts as an expression of lack of consent to such act under all the circumstances.” SeeConsent, Force and CoercionStopVAW.
 
Forcible Touching
SARA also created the offense of “forcible touching.” The offense is defined as “intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touching the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person; or for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire.” Penal Law § 130.52 codifies this definition. This new offense is a class A misdemeanor.
 
Related Statutes
New York also criminalized many related sexual acts.  Penal Law §§ 130.40130.45, and 130.50 define “criminal Sexual Act” as oral or anal sexual conduct that is forced or not consented to. “Aggravated Sexual Abuse” is defined as inserting a foreign object in the vagina, urethra, penis or rectum of another, by force, or without consent in Penal Law §§ 130.65-A130.66130.67, and 130.70. Like the rape statutes, these statutes respectively provide for various degrees of increasing severity for each crime. Additional statutes in Article 130 prohibit other sexual-related conduct including the following: sexual misconduct, persistent sexual abuse, course of sexual conduct against a child, female genital mutilation, sexually motivated felony, and predatory sexual assault.
 
Marital Exclusion Removed
Various sections of Article 130 previously excluded acts by one’s spouse from the reach of the sexual assault statutes. SARA removed this marital exclusion from all of the provisions of Article 130. As a result, married women are now provided greater protection by the law within the confines of their marriage to be free from unwanted sexual acts. In addition, the Omnibus Domestic Violence Bill, passed in 2009, designates certain low-level sexual assault crimes committed by a family or household member as family offenses. This change allows victims to receive order of protections from Family Courts for such offenses. SeeMarital and Intimate Partner Sexual AssaultStopVAW.
 
Federal Law Regarding Sex Offenders
Under federal law 42 U.S.C. § 16911, the term “sex offender” means an individual who was convicted of a criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another. The United States Congress has passed various laws in an attempt to prevent or deter sex offenders from re-offending. For example, under 42 U.S.C. § 16919, the U.S. Attorney General is required to maintain the National Sex Offender Registry.  This Registry is a database containing the names and locations of known sex offenders.  
 
The United States Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of sex offender registration laws.  For example, in the 2003 case of Connecticut Dep’t of Public Safety v. Doe (581 U.S. 1), the Court concluded that sex offender registration laws do not violate procedural due process even if the registered sex offender is not given the opportunity to prove that he or she is not currently dangerous. In the 2010 case of United States v. Comstock (560 U.S. 1), the United States Supreme Court held that the federal government has the authority to extend the completed prison terms of convicted federal inmates who are “sexually dangerous” – that is, inmates who suffer from a serious mental illness and would have “difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct” if released.
 
New York Law Regarding Sex Offenders
New York passed its own Sex Offender Registration Act in 1995. N.Y. Correction Law Article 6-C. The Act requires all sex offenders to register with the state at least ten days prior to discharge, parole, or release, or at the time of sentencing if the sex offender is released on probation.
 
The state registration system categorizes sex offenders by level—level one (low-risk), level two (medium-risk), and level 3 (high-risk).  A level one offender who has not been designated a sexual predator, a sexually violent offender, or a predicate sex offender is required to register with the state office annually for a period of twenty years. Level two or three offenders must register annually for the rest of their lives; a level three offender or sexual predator must also personally verify his address with local law enforcement every ninety days.
 
The state has several resources available for victims to track past offenders. First, you can search the state database online for sex offenders by last name, zip code or county. This information is also available by calling 1-800-262-3257. As of July 3, 2012, 34,248 sex offenders were registered in the state’s system.