Amanda Nguyen Changed Sexual Assault Laws In America. Now She's Going Global.

She says "activists for decades and decades [paved] a pathway for us to be in this moment.”

Read about all of A Plus' 2018 Game Changers of the Year here.

27-year-old Amanda Nguyen has already substantially changed the way the justice system handles sexual assault cases in the U.S.

The activist has been on a mission to reform the laws affecting survivors of sexual assault, a mission she took up following her own rape as a college student. Her organization, Rise, has helped pass support for the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights in 19 states across the country. Rise also contributing to the drafting of the law at the federal level, which calls declares the right for a victim to have access to their own police report, to their own patient medical records and rape kit examination, the right not to pay for that rape kit examination (which can cost as much as $2,000), and the right not to have your rape kit destroyed before the statute of limitations expires. 

Rise's goal is nothing less than to change the laws governing sexual assault survivors in all 50 states, and Nguyen and the community members supporting Rise seem well on their way.

When A Plus first spoke to Nguyen in August, her team had passed those 19 bills in 18 months. The team is getting ready for what's next.

"We're gearing up for the 2019 legislative cycle," she told A Plus in a recent interview. "We are planning to introduce these bills into the states that have not yet passed, and I do believe we will be able to keep up our record of passing a law a month."

Nguyen earns her Game Changer recognition for starting Rise for the historic pace with which her and her organization have changed the laws around survivors of sexual assault. Now, her organization is helping survivors across the country push for more equal protection under the law. In the months after Nguyen was raped, she learned that in Massachusetts, the state where her assault occurred, rape kits were destroyed six months after an assault unless a survivor signed an extension to preserve them. 

"It was very difficult to find to find out any information about what my rights were," Nguyen said in August. "And then on top of that ... I started researching what my rights were and found that there were different states that didn't have these unfortunate rules. What that meant to me was inequality under the law."

So Nguyen and Rise helped drafted the federal Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights, which passed unanimously the House and Senate in 2016 before being signed by former President Barack Obama. But despite its significance, the bill had far less practical value: most sexual assault cases were adjudicated at the state level, not the federal level. Once the bill passed, it was there to serve as a blueprint for what states should do. Now, Nguyen and her organization are enlisting community organizers to suss out what changes need to be made at the local level.

Nguyen says it's those community organizers — the "Risers," as she calls them — that make her most proud.

"Many of our organizers are people who write into us and say, 'Hey, this story is similar to mine, and I want to make sure that nobody in my community goes through what I have had to go through,'" she said. "Many of the organizers are survivors themselves."

With momentum at the national level, Nguyen isn't planning to slow down. For a couple of years, her team has had their eyes set on pushing survivors' rights globally. Now, they have a clear goal on the next step: pass a global resolution on sexual assault survivors before the 2019 United Nations General Assembly. 

"Under the resolution we have is a call on countries to take survivors lives seriously with full human dignity," Nguyen says. "Across the world, survivors are demanding that their government take their rights more seriously."

Along with Rise's own coalition building happening inside the U.N., Nguyen says there is an abundance of evidence the issue is entering the global zeitgeist. In October, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prizes. Both are fighting for the rights of sexual assault survivors; Mukwege treated victims of sexual violence throughout his career and Murad was a victim of sexual war crimes, according to NPR.  Nguyen, too, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

When Nguyen helped draft the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights, she wrote into the law a safeguard: the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services would have to issue a report that measures the implementation of the federal Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights. In October, the report was delivered to Congress. Nguyen describes that moment as one of the most significant in her career as an activist, because it assured her that her vision of change would carry on whether she is there or push it forward or not. 

"Sexual violence is — for better or for worse — an issue that news outlets, governments, and people in political power are paying attention to right now," Nguyen says. "That's a good thing. That's a result of #MeToo movement and a result of activists for decades and decades paving a pathway for us to be in this moment."

Cover image via Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Funny or Die.

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