This State Department Liaison Is Taking on the Justice System’s Appalling Treatment of Sexual Assault Cases

This State Department Liaison Is Taking on the Justice System’s Appalling Treatment of Sexual Assault Cases

Author’s note: This article discusses sexual assault and rape.

The U.S. State Department Deputy White House liaison Amanda Nguyen also happens to be the founder of Rise — a campaign and non-profit that was born after Nguyen found flaws in the justice system’s treatment of rapes and sexual assaults.

After realizing the limits of national legislation in protecting sexual assault survivors like her, Nguyen collaborated with legislators and educators throughout the country to clarify and standardize the rules of the justice system. Her petition, which is still circulating, includes changes to legislation that demand that law enforcement clearly notify survivors of their rights, give information regarding their specific rape kits, and give them a copy of the police report filed. While these attributes may seem like common sense and should be regularly practiced, her experiences illustrates that it is not.

Nguyen, a Harvard alum who is training to become an astronaut, realized the shortfalls of the criminal justice system when she received a notification saying that Massachusetts law dictated that her rape kit could be destroyed if she did not request an extension. However, they failed to notify her on how to do so. In her quest to extend her rape kit’s shelf life, she discovered that multiple other states failed to offer basic rights, such as forcing survivors to pay for a rape kit or offering little to no protection as a victim of a crime.

Rise works towards passing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, pulling grassroots support via petition, social media awareness, and donations from the public. If the bill passes the U.S. Congress, it would offer financial incentive for states to update their sexual assault protocol, standardizing it so that survivors don’t have to struggle with inconsistent policies between states. The campaign is also working at a state level to ensure that local leaders are on board with the reforms.

In an interview with The New York Times, Nguyen stated that this bill could benefit over 25 million sexual assault survivors in the United States. At the moment, she is working with several officials in the state where she continues to work on her personal sexual assault case (she still has to request a kit extension every six months in Massachusetts), in hopes that her advocacy will galvanize change in their system. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ann Wagner, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen have shepherded the bill through both houses of Congress, gathering critical support from other legislators.

“Without a clear set of rights articulated in the law, it’s difficult for even the best law enforcement professionals to ensure that survivors receive fair, effective, consistent treatment, particularly across counties and states. We have to do better,” Shaheen said in a statement. “We have to create an environment where survivors feel like the system is working for them, not against.”

Through Rise, Nguyen is leading the charge in raising awareness on just how muddled the reporting process can be for survivors of sexual assault. The grassroots movement also helps to give survivors a sense of agency over changing legislation that could potentially benefit survivors across the US.

Find out more on Rise’s website.