A Rape Survivor Is Leading A Movement To End Sexual Violence. And She's Winning.

Amanda Nguyen is changing laws all over America.

Amanda Nguyen had a plan: she'd go to Harvard, study astrophysics and national security, and become an astronaut. But then everything changed.

At 26 years old, Nguyen has now dedicated her life to reforming the laws for survivors of sexual assault. Her motivation comes from experiencing the injustices of the criminal system firsthand after she was raped in 2013. 

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"My rape is not the worst thing that happened to me," Nguyen told A Plus. "It was being betrayed by the criminal justice system."

Rise

That betrayal, as she describes it, was a law in Massachusetts that permitted her rape kit to be destroyed after six months even though the statute of limitations to charge someone in a rape case is 15 years. If she had not signed an extension to preserve the evidence of her rape, the evidence to prove who raped her could have been destroyed just six months after her rape was reported.

In 2014, when she was just 23, Nguyen started Rise, a national organization that fights for the rights of sexual violence victims. Two years later, Rise helped draft and pass the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights through Congress. The bill was just the 21st bill in modern United States history to pass without any opposition.

While that bill was important, it served mostly as a model bill for the states to follow. Because most rape cases are adjudicated at the state level, the federal law did little to help the estimated 25 million women living in the United States who are survivors of rape. 

"It was very difficult to find to find out any information about what my rights were," Nguyen said. "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."

Since then, Nguyen has been trying to implement state laws like the federal one passed by former President Barack Obama. And so far, she is moving at a staggering clip: her organization has helped pass 19 bills in 18 months, averaging more than a bill a month. Those bills push four main tenets: 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

According to Nguyen, there are perpetrators of violent and sexual crimes who are often afforded more rights than the victims. For example, she pointed out that people accused of rape or even murder often have access to police reports and medical records for years so they can fight for exoneration if they are making the case they are innocent or were tried unjustly. Incredibly, though, many states don't offer the victims of rape the same level of access. 

Now that Rise has gotten momentum in the United States, Nguyen says they are trying to become more of a global force. 35 percent of women on earth — or 1.3 billion people — have been victims of sexual violence, according to WHO. In the last year, Nguyen and Rise have been feeling the momentum as the #MeToo movement has brought their cause to center stage.

"The world is certainly in a moment of reckoning right now," Nguyen said.  "#MeToo is an example of that. I could not be more thrilled that people are talking about this and that its a piece of the social consciousness. What people are looking for is what can we do now? What can I do as an individual to actually make a difference? And the good news is that the survivors' bill of rights is a tangible, concrete action item."

Now, with the #MeToo movement in full force, Nguyen is being recognized globally for her work. In June, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

"I felt shellshock, my eyes were dilating," she said. "It was like a lightning bolt that ran through me. It was unadulterated joy but also just an immense feeling of humility and gratefulness and thankfulness. It's still hard to process it."

As always, she remained focused on the task at hand.

"What I do know is what I want to use this nomination for is to spotlight the issue that I'm fighting for on a global scale," she added. "It's about the work we are doing and the fight that we are engaged in and the movement we are trying to create. And that movement is creating a world where sexual violence doesn't exist anymore."

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