Interview by
Bifen Xu
@biferz

Photograph by
Roy Beeson
@RoyBeeson


Amanda Nguyen is wearing a dress from 3.1 Phillip LIm

Amanda Nguyen, CEO/ Civil Rights Activist

In 2013, while she was a student at Harvard, Amanda Nguyen was raped. She went to report the incident to the police and was given a rape kit examination. Amanda learned that if she did not report the crime to law enforcement, her rape kit would be destroyed within 6 months if an extension request was not filed.

“Most people don’t know this but a rape kit examination takes 3-7 hours long. Mine was 6 hours long. My blood taken for toxicology reports, hair samples taken, the bruises on my body photographed. Walking out, I fully understood that definition of lonely. Holding that taxi voucher in my hand, and knowing that my life is changed, I remember opening the taxi door and being like where do you go from here?” she told Ann Friedman in an interview on the podcast Going Through It.

The statute of limitations for rape is 15 years in Massachusetts and no other crime has evidence routinely destroyed. This was shocking for Amanda. Victims of sexual assault were required to navigate complicated paperwork. That victims were constantly reminded of their trauma in order to seek justice did not sit well with Amanda. In response, Amanda founded Rise, a nonprofit organization to protect the civil rights of sexual assault and rape survivors. She was instrumental in passing the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act which President Obama signed into law in 2016. This law was landmark legislation and would affect 25 million survivors. The law ensures that rape kits would be preserved without charge for 20 years or until the statute of limitations expires and created a bill of rights for victims. Since, then Rise has helped pass similar laws in 27 states.

Amanda was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for 2019 (the winner will be announced in October). She wants to pass laws in all 50 states and along with a world-wide resolution to guarantee rights for sexual assault survivors. It’s not a surprise that this 28 year-old woman whose family came as refugees from Vietnam has always aimed high. Before Rise, she interned at NASA and worked as the White House deputy liaison at the U.S. Department of State.

“As a young woman of color, I’m not often taken seriously, because I don’t hold the identities of someone who is powerful, who is a decision maker. And what that means is that people sometimes, whether subconsciously or not, don’t take me seriously. What I’ve realized is that pain that I have felt from people not taking me seriously, that is the cost of trailblazing, the cost of being first.”

-Going Through It.

Rise

“Fighting for sexual assault survivors’ rights, for me, was a personal matter of survival. My own civil rights were on the line and no one was going to fight on my behalf. The early stages of Rise were simply sharing my story with anyone who would listen, from Uber drivers to Congressional interns, until someone took me, my story and this cause seriously. We spent a 12-hour day on The Hill, going door-to-door trying to meet members of Congress. I learned I had to be in the public eye to get the attention of politicians who could vote for these rights. 

Coping with Trauma

Each survivor story is different and there is no one way to react or respond to trauma. It is important to prioritize your own safety, self-worth and self-care. Self-care and coping to me are finding fun and joy in everyday, eating good food, wearing good clothes and immersing myself in art and beauty and space. I’ve started taking Krav Maga classes as well to feel physically powerful and capable in my own skin. I do a lot of traveling so for me being able to feel confident and safe by myself is important. I go once a week with an instructor and I would like to go more if I can.

My Hero

Most people remember Rosa  Parks for initiating the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, but very few know it was the investigation of a sexual assault against Recy Taylor that ignited her fervor for justice. She was outspoken and proud and defiant and her entire story is incredibly inspiring.  

Practicing Gratitude

My schedule is often so hectic with travel and engagements that it can be hard to follow any dedicated ritual, but I do carve out time in my day, every day for tea and to practice gratitude. It helps me feel cozy and at home no matter where I am. Every day I text my girlfriends the top three things I’m grateful for. 

Today’s list was:

Wake up and work with an incredible team.

I am grateful to be able to write my ideas and I think about publishing them .

Really grateful to have so many friends in DC to reach out to spend out with me.

Celebrating Success

We have a long tradition of celebration at Rise. When we pass a law, we celebrate with our community of Risers (what we affectionately call our grassroots organizers) and update our movement snapshot: a current status of where we are at any given time in the legislative cycle. Then we celebrate on social media and publicly thank our sponsors, supporters and Governors. 

We have a board here at Rise that we update, we stand around it and we cheer on whoever was the lead on the project as we change. A cute corny thing. There is so much levity and joy that goes along with the history making. Our most recent law was passed in Pennsylvania. 

What I hated when I was younger but now love

Any dishes with bitter melon; it’s an acquired taste, but now I appreciate it.

Comfort Food

Ramen… definitely ramen, the last thing I made was the Korean kind, Shin Ramyun.

Advice to My Younger Self

The same advice I gave myself the morning I walked out of the hospital following my rape kit examination and continue to tell myself anytime we encounter a barrier to justice for survivors around the world: never, never, never give up. 

On Fashion

I see beauty or clothing as an artistic expression of who I am as a multifaceted individual: someone who can fight for civil rights and be feminine, who can negotiate with world leaders and nerd out about space, who can experience the full spectrum of humanity without having to compromise any part of myself because of a traumatic experience. Fashion and beauty are fun and I will never apologize or justify it. It’s just a part of what makes me who I am. 

A Red lip

My red lip is the color of the blood of my enemies. Kidding, maybe! I actually had the incredible opportunity to create my own lip color while traveling to New York. So my go-to shade is called ‘Amanda,’ thanks to Bite Lip Lab!

3 Things I Always Have When I Travel

Fake tulips I purchased in Amsterdam. They are wonderful conversation starters and I find so much delight in seeing how hotel staff respond to them. I’ve come back to my hotel room so many times after meetings and events to find my fake tulips beautifully and carefully placed in a vase with water. 

I carry bracelets that rape survivors have given me. There are two I always wear. They remind me of what I’m fighting for

My assistant. Honestly, I would never be on time if it wasn’t for him. 

Freetime

I take my telescope out and I try to find exoplanets and I paint. I plan on going to space one day.”



Amanda Recommends:

Books:

Beauty & Comfort Essentials: