An advocate makes her way forward
Story by Debralee Santos
“Words are very, very important.”
You’d expect no less from a schoolteacher, one who thrills in days spent teaching second graders.
“They’re amazing,” she exclaims, detailing the manner in which the lot of seven-year-old children in her care daily present new ways of seeing the world, and how close-knit the community of fellow teachers, staff and families at her school is.
She proudly, and quickly, labels herself a teacher first.
When asked about being an advocate, she pauses.
“I’d like to be,” she starts quietly. “I want to speak up and be honest, and if that’s what being an ‘advocate’ is, then yes.”
Lydia Cuomo’s cautious response is a departure from her characteristically rapid-fire – and ebullient – speech.
The young woman who rarely seems at a loss for words is now fighting to turn one in particular, that of “victim,” onto its head.
Savagely raped by ex-cop Michael Peña in an Inwood courtyard in the summer of 2011 while en route to her first day at her dream job as a schoolteacher, Cuomo would go on to endure a trial that saw her perpetrator admit to oral and anal assault, while denying vaginal penetration.
In New York, a rape charge is applicable only if a victim experiences forced vaginal penetration, while anal and oral penetration are considered criminal sexual acts, with different legal consequences.
Read more: In her own words.