Amanda Nguyen is on a mission.
The 27-year-old is fighting a historic battle against the U.S. criminal justice system — and she’s winning.
In 2013, Nguyen was raped when she was a senior at Harvard University. When researching her rights as a sexual assault survivor, Nguyen encountered tremendous hurdles and confusing information about how to move forward.
In the U.S., a person is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. Often the only evidence survivors have to make a case against their perpetrators is the results of a sexual assault forensic exam called a rape kit.
But testing a rape kit can cost between $1,000-$1,500 in certain states. There is a huge backlog of untested rape kits in the U.S., and thousands of kits are destroyed every year without being tested — often without the survivors’ knowledge. In Massachusetts, where rape kits were supposed to be kept for 15 years, Nguyen still had to fight every six months for her kit to not be destroyed.
“There are creditors who call you if you can’t afford to pay for it. And that’s absolutely unfair,” Nguyen said in an interview with MONEY.
The lifetime economic burden of rape in the U.S. is estimated by one study to be $122,461 per victim, including impaired health, lost productivity, and criminal justice costs. With over 25 million reported rape survivors in the U.S., that amount totals over $3.1 trillion.
Nguyen decided to fight for justice, change the law, and bring equality to survivors. She wrote the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights as a side project while working for the White House in 2014.
Included in her bill is the right for survivors to have a rape kit procedure done at no cost, and that the kits will be preserved for 20 years without the need for filing extensions. It also ensures survivors will receive updates on the status and location of their rape kits, the right to equality, advocacy, the termination of legal ties with the assailant — and that all rights would be retained whether or not the assault is reported to law enforcement.
To try and help pass the bill in all 50 states, Nguyen founded the non-profit organization Rise, which she initially funded through GoFundMe. Today, she has several donors who help support her mission, including Craig Newmark, the philanthropist, entrepreneur, and founder of Craigslist.
In 2016, her bill was voted on in Congress — and became only the 21st law in modern U.S. history to pass unanimously.
But Nguyen is far from finished. Now she’s helping other survivors create their own laws.
“I don’t want people to use money as a reason why they can’t start creating the campaign that they want to,” Nguyen said. “I want people to understand that there’s a lot of capital out there. There are people who will be willing to give you resources if you believe in your own idea enough.”
Her incubator program Rise Justice Labs helps other people write and pass their own bills by offering funds, training, and access to professional services like lawyers.
The first group under the Rise umbrella is ZeroUSA, cofounded by Robert Schentrup, brother of 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup, one of the 17 victims of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. ZeroUSA aims to end gun violence by passing extreme risk protective orders and disarming domestic abusers.
With the help of Rise, ZeroUSA passed its first law in Colorado in May 2019.
Nguyen was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for leading a social movement sparked by her own experience. Now she’s a source of inspiration for other survivors around the world — one can only imagine what she’ll do next.
Correction: This post originally misstated Amanda Nguyen’s age. She is 27 years old.