(Photo courtesy of Kate Warren)
UC Berkeley

Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Rise CEO Amanda Nguyen is revolutionizing how people define justice

Amanda Nguyen became an unapologetic warrior fighting for the transformation of civil rights of sexual assault survivors. But before she was honored as one of Forbes 30 Under 30, Marie Claire’s Young Woman of the Year and nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, she was a rape survivor. 

She was a college student at Harvard, forced to confront the many systematic failures of American legislation in the aftermath of her assault. In a Möbius strip of inaccessible laws, she discovered that rape kits in Massachusetts were discarded after only six months. 

“The worst thing that happened to me wasn’t being raped, it was being betrayed by a broken criminal justice system,” Nguyen said.

Even when evidence from Nguyen’s kits could be utilized for another 15 years in Massachusetts for investigatory purposes, Nguyen soon had to embark on the odious process of continually submitting extension requests to keep her rape kits accessible.

She soon discovered some states did not even communicate to victims that their rape kits would be destroyed, or have an extension request process that Massachusetts did. 

Amanda Nguyen decided to start a revolution. 

Rape kits can be invasive, especially after experiencing a traumatic assault. Victims are already faced with a message so commonly imparted by society: victims should not believed.

They are stigmatized as a result of being raped, forced to pay up to $2000 for their rape kits to be performed, and then aren’t afforded a fair investigation. The elimination of rape kits means the undoing of evidence that could be used in solving rape cases, linking rape cases across the nation, and freeing those wrongfully convicted. 

The American justice system is said to be built on claims of equality and fairness. Many rely on it to seek punishment against those committing heinous crimes.

When American society depends so heavily on its justice system to safeguard the rights of its residents, it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that it can be so utterly broken. 

Nguyen is upending what American laws stand for, and taking this fragmented system into her own hands, cultivating a justice system that is going is ensuring that victims of colors, around the nation and around the world, are finally going to be heard.

Nguyen said she is “penning her own rights into existence,” and formulated the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights as a result.

The Bill includes “the right to equality under the law, right to informative rape kit procedures and notification, right to survivors’ advocacy, right to terminate all legal ties with the assailant, right to the retention of all rights regardless of whether assault is reported to law enforcement, as well as coverage of rape kit fees.” 

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights was unanimously approved at the federal level, and signed into effect by former President Barack Obama.

“We’ve passed our bill in 17 states and will keep pushing forward until every state recognizes equality under the law for all survivors,” Nguyen said. 

Her organization, Rise, is a nonprofit organization Nguyen began in the early efforts of creating the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.

“The early stages of Rise were simply sharing my story with anyone who would listen, from Uber drivers to Congressional interns, until someone took me, my story and this cause seriously,” Nguyen said.

Along with the few members of Rise, the team would spend 12 hour days going door to door in an attempt to reach members of Congress. She soon discovered that laws regarding sexual assault survivors varied state to state.

More often than not, the laws were doing a subpar job at ensuring victims were treated fairly in all aspects of their investigation. “This absolutely needed to change. Justice should never depend on geography; and that inspired me to act,” Nguyen said. 

The apex of the #MeToo movement revealed the pattern of dehumanizing women in one of the most illustrious industries in the world. Women and victims in Hollywood could no longer remain silent as fellow victims in the industry were coerced in suppressing their voices out of fear.

When the media is bombarded with the news that another rapist was given a lenient sentence, or elected in elite spaces in the United States, millions of victims realized they could not afford to remain silent. 

Soon afterwards, women in a plethora of industries found the strength to speak about the injustices they faced. This movement was a result of the dire need for change when a system is incredibly fractured in its laws protecting victims of sexual violence.

Despite the impact the #MeToo movement had, Nguyen revealed an underlying issue behind it, and its exclusion of diverse voices.  

“The #MeToo movement in 2016 and 2017 really helped shine a light on the prevalence of sexual violence in the entertainment industry, but it was largely wealthy, Caucasian, American women with resources to find support,” Nguyen said.

However, this movement is an important societal recognition, and Nguyen emphasized that Rise’s aim is to make “this movement accessible to all survivors — not just American, not just women, not just wealthy, not just white.” 

What Nguyen aims to do is ensure that the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights not only influences the US, but extends its reach internationally as well. “The Universal Survivors’ Bill of Rights through the United Nations resolution is a proactive step to protect the rights of all sexual violence survivors, regardless of geography,” she said. 

Even with multiple people in positions of authority revealed to be sex offenders, including the President, Nguyen explains she doesn’t “have the stereotypical characterstics of a person in power.” Despite the relentless doubt from politicians, she refuses to forfeit to their disbelief. 

“I’ve had politicians debate the political feasibility of my civil rights in front of me, but my deep conviction in the civil rights has been my North Star,” Nguyen said.

Volunteers at Rise are named Risers, many of them survivors themselves. It’s difficult having to recant a traumatic incident every time the Bill is set to be presented to a large audience, like her Keynote speech at the United Nations, but Nguyen finds strength from her community of Risers.

“Many of our Risers are survivors themselves, as well as young men and women of color, fighting for their own civil rights. Knowing the work that we’re doing is impacting millions of survivors nationwide and around the world fuels my fire,” Nguyen said. 

She remains steadfastly passionate in her fight, and refuses to allow her assault to be anything but a reason to advocate for justice. “Every survivor story I hear stokes the flames and keeps me moving forward for justice, regardless of how overwhelming or disheartening some days may feel,” Nguyen said.  

The American justice system makes the promise to protect, and Amanda Nguyen is ensuring that it does. She is refusing to let anyone in her way as she continues to advocate for all the voices that are hushed and never heard. The voices of color. The voices of women and men. The voices that no one believed. 

Amanda Nguyen is rewriting justice. “If we want to be a society that treats rape seriously and gives survivors the right to talk about their experiences at various points in their life, believing survivors is necessary,” Nguyen said.