The Woman Demanding Federal Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors
Get to Know the 2017 NCCWSL Women of Distinction
Name: Amanda Nguyen
Occupation: President and Founder of Rise
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Harvard University
Deputy White House liaison, nonprofit founder, aspiring astronaut, and key player behind a piece of 2016 federal sexual assault legislation, Amanda Nguyen has been busy since she graduated from Harvard just a few years ago. Recently, her career path has focused on fighting for the rights of sexual assault survivors.
Nguyen was raped while she was a student at Harvard. Campus sexual assault is pervasive in this country, where one in five women students has experienced some kind of sexual assault while in college. To make matters worse, the legal process around prosecuting sexual assault can be problematic when it comes to preserving evidence, as Nguyen discovered.
More than half of U.S. states have eliminated the statute of limitations for rape, but Massachusetts is not among those states. In Massachusetts the statute of limitations for rape is 15 years, but evidence from a rape, including a rape kit, can be destroyed as early as six months after being submitted. For many survivors, this short time span means their rape kits are destroyed before they are even tested, making it nearly impossible for them to receive justice.
Nguyen has been navigating the legal procedures and processes involved with campus sexual assault for years. Every six months she must request an extension for her rape kit to remain on file and on public record so she can eventually have it tested. Because of the lack of protections for survivors, Nguyen must revisit the evidence twice a year in order to one day hold her assailant accountable in a court of law.
Researching and fighting for justice led her to realize that she wasn’t alone in her personal or legal experiences. One year after her assault, Nguyen — who was well on her way to her goal of becoming an astronaut, with a NASA internship and a prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Fellowship — changed gears and founded Rise, a nonprofit organization focused on civil rights for sexual assault survivors.
Rise’s central mission was to pass a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, and in 2016, when a bill federally guaranteeing survivors’ rights passed unanimously through the House and Senate and was signed into law, the organization came a step closer to accomplishing that goal. The bill takes steps that Nguyen believes are commonsense practices, such as
- Giving survivors a medical forensic examination, also known as a rape kit, for free (some victims are charged more than $1,000 for the exam) and giving survivors access to the kit’s results
- Notifying survivors 60 days before their rape kits are destroyed and giving them the right to request to preserve the kits for a longer period of time
- Maintaining rape kits as evidence for 20 years, or through the duration of the statute of limitations
Rise’s next goal is to get similar legislation passed in all 50 states so that survivors across the nation have the same rights. As Nguyen said during her introduction of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act to the Senate, “Justice for sexual assault survivors should not depend on geography.”
She hopes the work she’s done to standardize and protect the rights of sexual assault survivors will shield others from the difficulties she faced in pursuing justice.