We Made A Difference For 25 Million Survivors Of Sexual Assault — Here's How You Can, Too

Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images.
Amanda Nguyen is the founder and president of Rise, a national civil rights nonprofit that worked to implement a Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights. The views expressed here are her own.

There can be days when you find yourself completely bewildered or disoriented by our political reality. How does real change happen in a country caught up in the latest scandal? How can our democracy work if elected officials don’t work together?

But a group of determined individuals did make the impossible happen — we got Congress to pass a landmark civil rights bill, the Survivors' Bill of Rights Act, unanimously. In fact, President Obama signed it into law on October 7. This law impacts at least 25 million sexual-assault survivors, and it's about supporting people who have been let down by the criminal-justice system.

To put it in perspective: The last time Congress passed a bill unanimously was six years ago. And since 1989, only 0.016% of bills have passed both chambers of Congress unanimously on the record, according to a Quorum analysis. That’s less than one tenth of a percent. So, yes, this feat was nearly impossible.

I remember walking out of the hospital after my rape-kit examination. I have never felt more alone in my life.

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But it wasn't impossible, and that is what I want to share with you. As a result of this bill’s passing, rape survivors in federal territories will no longer live in fear that their untested rape kits may be destroyed before the statute of limitations. They will also now have the right to access their medical results from the kit and will be notified of what rights they have in their state.

And that means a lot to those 25 million people. But it also means a lot to me. This law represents probably the only form of justice I will ever see. I remember walking out of the hospital after my rape-kit examination. I have never felt more alone in my life. I remember asking myself: Where do I go from here? To go from that moment of despair and loneliness to seeing the leaders of the nation in Congress unanimously stand up for this gives me a sense of hope.

Watching the bill pass Congress and getting it signed into law not only represented personal justice to me, but also hope that our nation can still function. Fifty-six percent of millennials consider themselves social activists.

As a result of this bill’s passing, rape survivors in federal territories will no longer live in fear that their untested rape kits may be destroyed before the statute of limitations.

When we started, we were told a lot of nos: No, you cannot change the country. No, it is not possible. At best, the nos were polite. We got used to hearing: Yes, this is important, but no, we can’t prioritize these civil rights now. At worst, it was condescending: No, you are too young to dream this big. But our generation, and specifically Rise, is reclaiming the youth voice in politics and making sure that the issues that specifically affect young adults aren’t being overlooked.

Social media has lowered the barrier for young people to enter into advocacy. It gives us the tools to spread our mission in an engaging, authentic way. Along with championing our survivors' bill of rights, Rise wants to be a model for millennial advocacy and inspire collective action and fight for the issues they care about. As millennials push past Baby Boomers as the largest generation, our voice has become more important than ever. Big brands, corporations, and politicians are fighting to win our sponsorship. We can leverage that power to demand the issues we care about are at the top of the agenda.

I want people to understand that if we were able to do this, it means that anyone can change this country.

We can also make a big impact quickly. Rise was founded from one mass email. Within two months of that mass email being sent, the team wrote and filed the bill in Massachusetts. In four months, the bill became a model for change in other states. After five months, we found ourselves in the halls of the United States Congress. In February of 2016, we introduced the bill that has now been signed into law. From introduction to passage, it took a total of seven short months. I want people to understand that if we were able to do this, it means that anyone can change this country. It is within our reach to create a better world.

Our work is not done. Because most rape cases are adjudicated at the state level, it is important to generate momentum to carry out this work in the states. This federal bill is a model for state legislatures to adopt. Your support is necessary to put this important civil rights issue on the map, and make state legislatures across the country take notice.

Our theory of change is simple: Hope is contagious. If people see a way to create change on an issue they care about, they will join the movement. It is with extraordinary hope for this nation that I ask you to join us. It is possible for anyone to make a difference. Rise with us.
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