Meet Amanda Nguyen, the Founder Fighting for Survivors of Abuse in Quarantine
Amanda Nguyen cannot and will not be silenced. In 2014, just one year after experiencing sexual assault as a then-senior at Harvard, she founded Rise to inspire other women to find their voices after trauma, as she had. Her nonprofit is now known for taking aim at gaps in the criminal justice system by introducing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. Through Rise, Nguyen has already helped to create 30 such laws to increase protections for more than 72 million sexual assault survivors across the country.
Nguyen’s efforts have landed her on Forbes’s coveted 30 Under 30 list and earned her a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nomination. But her fight is far from over. “We’re not stopping,” she says. “We’re continuing this badass work with more states adopting their own Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine has resulted in a spike in domestic violence up to three times the average rate, which Rise plans to tackle as well. Through initiatives and innovative thinking, Nguyen and her Rise staff are working to provide survivors with information and resources, as well as safe ways to reach out for help during this time. “We are facing unprecedented issues affecting survivors at the forefront,” says Nguyen. “Rise is working to address this from all sides, through direct calls to action from elected officials to grassroots efforts to support survivors in their own communities by ensuring they know what resources are available to them: from hotlines, to centers, to counselors available in their time of need.”
Rising Up: In 2014, Nguyen, a Harvard graduate with prestigious internship experience at NASA, The White House, and Morgan Stanley, decided that the mishandling of rape kits was the first wrong she wanted to right when founding her nonprofit, Rise. In some states, if a sexual assault is not reported within a certain period of time, a survivor’s rape kit can be destroyed. While a victim has the length of a statute of limitations in their state to press charges, a successful trial and conviction is nearly impossible without this key piece of evidence. By 2016, Nguyen succeeded when Rise passed a landmark federal Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights aimed at improving the way rape kits were handled and providing various other rights to victims. “We knew it would be difficult,” says Nguyen. “It was during one of the most divided Congresses in history, but we passed the bill unanimously.” The bill is one of only 21 bills in modern U.S. history to be passed unanimously.
Rise continues to break barriers with 30 more laws passed in a span of less than four years, making it the most successful legislative reform movement in the history of the U.S. Most recently, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights passed in Indiana in March (with Missouri close behind after their senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this week). And while Nguyen says there’s still more work to do, she's hopeful and confident that, with the help of volunteers across the country, she will be able to accomplish these goals. She says, “This means retaining important evidence from rape kits, making sure that survivors have access to the support systems they desperately need while continuing to advocate and pass meaningful legislation that makes a difference in survivors’ lives.”
Pushing for Progress: In March, when Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for his predatory behavior against women in Hollywood, many saw it as a victory in the #MeToo movement. Nguyen would have to agree. But, she insists, there is still a long way to go in the fight to protect survivors. “Rise is proud to see these victories for survivors in the courtroom, but we also know that there are numerous faceless individuals who, every day, endure a broken criminal justice system that deprives them of their rights and blocks their paths to justice,” she says. “The Weinstein case is a victory, but it’s a crack in the wall. We still need to bring the entire wall down.”
Unprecedented Times: While legislative calendars and events are on hold through the coronavirus pandemic, Nguyen says Rise is still doing all that they can to continue advocating for survivors. Rise even held a virtual Townhall meeting on April 23 to discuss the effects the pandemic is having on domestic abuse victims and share solutions. Nguyen stressed the importance of providing survivors with resources as well as letting them know that they are “not alone” during this time. Dr. Ashita Ganguly, an infectious disease specialist treating COVID-19 patients in New Orleans who joined Nguyen on the call, also encouraged survivors to find the courage to visit emergency rooms if they have been injured and need to seek medical treatment.
How to Help: In response to the coronavirus, Rise has created the Survivor Safe Haven, an initiative that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to support abuse survivors in immediate danger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers at participating restaurants and stores are trained to assist anyone who says the code phrase: “Rise Up 19.” After hearing the code, the employees call the RAINN.org hotline and give the survivor a safe place to talk. “The goal is to get people access to information and resources as soon as possible,” says Nguyen. “But the [other] goal is to make sure that survivors know that people in the community are there for them.”
Nguyen says anyone can provide this service to survivors in their area simply by giving local restaurants and stores the Survivor Safe Haven information. “Work together, even if we can’t be together,” says Nguyen. “If there’s one thing this scary time has taught us, it’s the importance of connection and collective voice. We can’t let a lack of physical connection bring us down. No one is powerless when we come together, and no one can make us invisible when we demand to be seen.”