It seems to be too common of an occurrence that victims of sexual violence end up being retraumatized during the process of reporting the incident. From state to state, across the country, survivors of sexual assault have experienced unnecessary hardships during a time when they require the most support. Now, advocates are trying to change that.
Amanda Nguyen is one of the main reasons the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights has been introduced in the Senate. In 2013, Amanda was raped. She stated that “The broken criminal justice system is absolutely worse than the rape itself for me.” As a survivor of sexual assault, she has experienced the struggles that many survivors across the country deal with during an extremely difficult time.
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Nguyen endured the rape kit exam, as many victims do, and was shocked to discover that after only 6 months the kits could be destroyed. She was informed that in order to prevent that from happening, she would be required to file an extension. From there she encountered the difficulty of finding anyone that could explain how to do so. After countless phone calls, she was informed that she would need to continuously file extensions every six months to prevent the kit from being destroyed, and she continues to do just that to this day.
After her troubling experience, Nguyen discovered that many states do not offer adequate protection for victims. There are several states which charge victims for their rape kits and exams, which are already very difficult to endure without the added burden of financial responsibility. Still there are other states where victims must wait lengthy periods of time prior to being seen by a medical professional, or are told they must report the crime to the police before being seen. Some victims are never provided a counselor to help them through the system while others have their rape kits discarded before they have ever even been tested, often times without the victim’s knowledge.
Once Nguyen realized how severe the problem was she decided to take action. She founded the organization RISE, which is a non-profit dedicated to protecting the rights of sexual assault survivors. The 24-year old Harvard alumni’s organization backed the bill for the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights which was introduced to the Senate by Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
If passed, this legislation would create federal incentives to encourage states to update protocols which guarantee equal protection for sexual assault victims and ensure a basic set of rights to all survivors. Some of those basic rights or protections would include the right to a free-of-charge forensic exam, and assurance that the rape kit will not be destroyed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Bill would ensure that all survivors receive equal support that isn’t based on the state they reside in.
The bill has gained support from many people across the country and several advocates are trying to raise awareness about the difficulties that sexual assault survivors face. While Amanda Nguyen and her RISE organization continue to work with Congress and state lawmakers others are doing their part to assist as well.
Funny or Die, the comedy video website and film/TV production company, approached Amanda with the idea of using a comedy video to direct more people to join her cause. She teamed up with them and after a few short hours of the video they created being released, the Change.org petition they created promoting the Bill had 50,000 signatures. There are several other online petitions all connected to the support of the legislation.
In addition to the efforts that are being made to pass the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights advocates across the country are working to create awareness and prevent future assaults from occurring. During the month of April many facilities, especially schools, use Sexual Assault Awareness Month as an opportunity to host events to educate the population.
Hollywood has also gotten involved in creating awareness. In addition to Funny or Die’s collaboration with RISE, sexual assault has been a current topic in several recent movies. In fact, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the movie Spotlight which depicts the Boston Globe investigative journalism team unearthing the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Many involved in the movie began advocating for the victims of sexual abuse and used the awards show as a way to address the public on the platform.
Many other people are becoming more and more involved in the movement to support survivors and create awareness. Amanda Nguyen stated, “This movement is grounded in the belief that the voices of ordinary citizens matter – no matter the background, no matter the age.”