Rise Spotlight: Meet Flannery

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Why do I Rise?

I Rise because fighting for the civil rights of all humans the world over makes me feel whole. I Rise because the knowledge that my civil rights are protected makes me sleep a little better each night. I Rise because there’s too much to be done to sit and be idle.

What has been my proudest moment?

Rise moves at the speed of light. We have accomplished so many important things in such a short amount of time it’s hard to chose one moment to be the most proud of. However, if I had to choose something, I would say it’s the ability that all risers have to stay strong and stay positive in the face of the fiercest opposition. These past few weeks have been tough on our country and even tougher on survivors. Rise is comprised of survivors and allies alike and I must say I couldn’t be prouder of the way Risers rallied around each other to not only show themselves as individuals committed to a common purpose, but a community and a support system like none I’ve ever seen.

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Which Golden Girl Do I Identify with?

A mix of Sophia and Rose. In many of my friend circles, I tend to be the oldest. I can be very cynical yet fiercely loyal and I have a tendency to egg on others to be silly or get into trouble (not like legal trouble though!). But I pretty much giggle constantly.

What app do you have on your phone that you’re embarrassed to admit you use?

I’m not actually embarrassed by it, but the silliest app I have, and use, is Plant Nanny. It’s an app where I water a virtual plant every time I drink a glass of water. It’s a silly way to keep track of my hydration.

Who/ what’s your alter ego?

Miss Frizzle from Magic School Bus

Rise Spotlight: Meet Jennifer

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Why do you Rise?
I rise because changing legislation is the only form of justice I will ever see from our system. For some survivors, the most painful part of the experience isn’t the just rape itself, but that our criminal justice system continually and infuriatingly fails and retraumatizes us.

The laws I help pass will never apply to me, since they are not retroactive. But knowing that I’m helping other survivors in a concrete way helps me feel like I’m finally able to have some control over my own narrative.

What has been your experience with Rise so far?
Surreal. I feel like I’m in a Legally Blonde movie, but better. Amanda has made the impossible happen, and it’s because she is an amazing leader who truly believes in Risers. She guides us to create the change ourselves, and that has been an empowering and healing experience. I’ve also met some of the best people through Rise; Brenda Tracey and Lauren Libby were two of the earliest Risers I met, and those two have such big hearts. I just love the Rise community.

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What has been your proudest moment?
Testifying in front of the Public Safety Committee in Sacramento for our California bill, AB 1312. This was the first committee hearing for the bill, and it was going to set the tone for the rest of the bill’s journey through the legislative process.

I woke up at 5am to make it to the 8am hearing, as I was travelling to Sacramento from Oakland. I practiced my testimony in front of the mirror many times the night before, and I didn’t get emotional. But as soon as I spoke in front of those committee members, my voice was shaking. I can write letters of support and go through iterations of legislative language, but having to explain the importance of the bill from a personal standpoint to a room full of strangers was different.

I’m glad I testified; the bill ended up passing unanimously out of the committee, both chambers, and was signed into law by Governor Brown.

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What do you do when you’re not changing the world with Rise?
I do communications work for a labor union, play with my cat, watch a lot of cooking TV, and eat a lot of yummy food.

Once we’ve addressed the justice system, what do you want to do next for survivors?
I want to smash the “good victim” narrative; there is no right or wrong way to be a survivor. Many survivors don’t come forward because we are made to question whether our rapes are “enough,” whether knowing our rapists will affect how others see the “legitimacy” of the rape, whether the way we reacted afterwards was the “proper” way to do it, and so many other factors. Every one of our experiences is valid.

Which Golden Girls do you identify with?
Sophia Petrillo because she has no filter. Also because I am secretly a curmudgeonly old lady; I carry tiger balm, a handkerchief, and an extra sweater in my purse, and steal all the napkins in the restaurant.

Who’s your alter ego?
Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn 99. I love her because she’s a badass and she hates feelings as much as I do. Feelings are hard.

Riser Spotlight: Meet Abby

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Why do you Rise?
I Rise for the survivors who can't. All humans deserve justice, and sexual assault survivors are no exception.

What has been your experience with Rise so far?
I stumbled onto Rise by accident during a fundraising happy hour. I can say without question that it's changed my life. Standing up for the rights of survivors has helped me heal what, until then, remained an open wound. 

What has been your proudest moment?
My proudest moment was standing in front of lawmakers at the Capitol in Albany and urging them to take action to change the protection of rape kits from 30 days to 20 years. Those five minutes were the toughest of my life thus far, but when I learned that the bill had passed, I knew they were worth it. :)

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What do you do when you're not changing the world with Rise?
Write about wellness for Yahoo, work on a comedy pilot about a Supreme Court of all women, and dream of the day we get our first female President. Also, wine. 

What's your next step?
Now that the law is awaiting the Governor's signature in New York, I'm ready to take what I've learned to help empower Risers in other states. It takes guts to stand up for yourself, and it's not a road you need to travel alone.

What does Rise mean to you?
I remember the first night meeting Amanda and Lauren at that happy hour, and at the end of the night Lauren pulled me aside and said that even if I decided not to join Rise, I'd always have a group of people that I could go to who would understand what I'm going through. That's what Rise means to me: a community of understanding, compassion, and unbelievable strength. 

Which Golden Girls do you identify with?
Rose's optimism; Dorothy's grit.

What app do you use on your phone that you're embarrassed to admit?
Kourtney Kardashian's wellness app. 

Who's your activism co-pilot?
My boyfriend. He teaches history at a public school in Manhattan so his whole life is about giving back. It inspires me to do the same. :)

Survivor Rights and World Peace

I delivered the following testimony to the United States Senate at the June 26 Judiciary Committee Hearing. I share this testimony with you now as a call to action to support worldwide survivor rights through our change.org petition.

"There can be no peace without the opportunity to pursue justice." 

 

As a child, I learned to believe in the well-worn credos of our legal system—that we all had access to justice, that our civil rights were sacrosanct, and that everyone was equal under law. But in the wake of my assault, I came to understand just how hollow those words can feel to a survivor seeking justice and compassion.

In the course of pursuing my own case, I ran into roadblock after roadblock—and discovered that my path was all too familiar to millions of Americans. Rape kits destroyed before they could be brought forth as evidence. Copies of vital medical records and police reports denied. Shortfalls and irregularities in every state; symptoms of a broken promise that has left far too many survivors—already reeling from one betrayal—feeling powerless, invisible, betrayed for a second time.

I refused to be invisible—so I charted a new path. I rewrote the law, working with members of Congress, to draft a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. The Bill would earn the distinction of being one of the few pieces of legislation passed unanimously by Congress in recent memory. More importantly, it codified a set of basic, comprehensive civil rights for more than 25 million rape survivors across the country.

I never imagined the challenges I would face after my assault, nor did I imagine the power, the progress, and the hope that would arise from my ordeal. I created this nonprofit, Rise, to teach other survivors how to pen their own rights into existence—and to carry our success in Congress out into the fifty states, where most rape cases are adjudicated. To date, our team has worked with local survivors to secure the passage of 18 laws, with more on the way.

Because most rape cases are adjudicated in state courts it is necessary for these rights to be passed on the state-by-state level in the United States. I ask each of you reading this to help bring these civil rights to your own communities and to your own states where survivors need it still. I ask that you realize your position of privilege and power and that the work does not stop in the United States Congress. I ask that you understand the incredible movement we have created together and that through our shared common humanity we can make a difference across not only America, but also, the world.

Though it was the American promise of equal justice that Rise first sought to fulfill, the truth is that this challenge is global. Sexual violence is an epidemic from which no nation is immune; it is exacerbated by inequitable laws, by familiar stigmas, and by the silence of leaders on the world stage. Rise is working with partners around the world to pass rape survivor reform laws, and more countries are set to follow suit. But for most survivors, whether they’re in Dakar, Delhi, or Des Moines, this is still a struggle they are forced to endure alone—as invisible and powerless as I once was.

Last month, I had the incredible honor of being formally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by two bipartisan Congressional women, Representative Walters and Representative Lofgren. When most people think about peace, the work that my team is engaged in may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But the truth is for the estimated 35 percent of women on Earth who are survivors of sexual violence, access to justice is a necessary prerequisite to true peace. Their lives are the invisible war zones that corrode human potential and hold back the promise of a just world. Their powerlessness is our shame.

This is a peace that we all - Senator, citizen, advocate from any corner of the globe - can help deliver. We can hold a light up to this darkest corner of human experience, and allow survivors at last to be seen, to be heard, to be believed, to be empowered. I have authored a first-of-its-kind, worldwide resolution on the rights of sexual assault survivors, which I intend to bring before the United Nations General Assembly. Its central tenets are the same as those I firs laid out in the aftermath of my own rape: that justice should not depend on geography; that every human being deserves the opportunity to be heard.

We can make justice and peace for survivors of sexual violence a meaningful global priority, just as we have begun to make it a priority here at home. What higher cause could we all serve than to call the world to action to put power back into the hands of rape survivors—people who have been disempowered by horrific acts of violence? The movement I represent here today is one that draws from our core national values: democracy, equality, and, most of all, hope. I am grateful that the United States Congress has been united in support of Rise's work. And it is my hope that we can now unite the world by educating and inspiring people everywhere, both at home here in America state by state and around the globe, to chart paths to power of their own. 

Statement from Rise Founder and CEO, Amanda Nguyen on Governor Cuomo's insufficient move to protect rape kits from destruction

By Amanda Nguyen

Destroying rape kits at 5 years instead of 30 days is not a victory. The entire United States Congress, including the New York State Congressional Delegation, unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights that saves rape kits for the full statute of limitations or at least 20 years. This is the standard that has been passed in 10 additional state laws across America. Doing better than an awful 30-day minimum is still substantially worse than the rest of the country. We, including the New York State survivors whose rape kits have been destroyed by New York State, would like to understand where this arbitrary 5-year destruction deadline came from. Why should New York State rape survivors have fewer rights than other survivors in America? Survivors deserve equality under the law. Justice should not depend on geography. As a rape survivor who had to fight to save my own rape kit from destruction and an advocate who has written and passed 12 laws on rape kit destruction, I am happy to discuss this with the Governor to make New York State a fair place for survivors.

Loophole Allows New York Rape Kits to Go Into Trash After 30 Days

Despite Recent Victory in New York over Rape Kit Backlogs, New York Hospitals Still Allowed to Throw Away Rape Kits After 30 Days

By Jennifer Li

New York has made great progress in the past few years on the sexual assault and rape laws. In 2015, Governor Cuomo signed a the "Enough is Enough" bill, authored by Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D) and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R), into law. The "Enough is Enough" law provides for the most aggressive policy in the nation to fight against sexual assault on college campuses. In November 2016, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that recognizes and provides much-needed solutions for New York's rape kit backlog problem. The bill, A10067A, introduced by Senator Kemp Hannon (R) and Assemblymember Simotas (D), requires all police agencies across the state to send their untested rape kits to a forensic laboratory for testing, while newly collected kits will be subject to strict deadlines for testing.

But there's an unfortunate loophole that allows rape kits to fall through the cracks. While the 2016 bill mandates that law enforcement agencies be required to send rape kits to a forensic lab within 10 days of collecting evidence, it does not address another primary collector of rape kits: hospitals.

Under current New York Public Health law, a hospital is expected to collect and store sexual offense evidence for at least 30 days. Afterwards, it can be discarded, unless law enforcement requests the rape kit, the survivor requests the rape kit be turned over to law enforcement, or the victim signs a statement telling the hospital not to collect and keep evidence of the sexual assault. After 30 days, the hospital is required to notify the survivor that the evidence will be discarded if the victim chooses not to report to law enforcement.

Recovering and healing from sexual assault can take weeks, months, years, or an entire lifetime. 30 days is an impossibly short time frame for a sexual assault survivor to both process the trauma they have just experienced, and to decide whether to report their assault to law enforcement.

Retention of rape kits should not be contingent on reporting the sexual assault. Not only does this put the rape victim under a pressure cooker of stress (if they are notified about the timeline at all), it also makes it harder for New York State to prosecute sexual offences and rape cases. There are no New York statute of limitations on sexual offenses that is 30 days or shorter. If a victim decides to report their sexual assault after the short 30-day time frame, and the hospital has thrown away the kit, the State has lost important DNA evidence to prosecute the case.

As it currently stands, New York holds the undesirable title of the state with one of the shortest known rape kit retention timelines.

According to a 2007 research report by the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (NYCASA) that surveyed 39 New York City hospitals, four hospitals stored kits less than 30 days, and three did not know how long they were stored. The rest of the hospitals stored the kits at least 30 days, with 37.1% storing them for one to three months. Of the 39 hospitals, only eight of the surveyed hospitals notified the victim prior to discarding the kits, even though New York Public Health law requires hospitals to notify the victim. The NYCASA study shows how unevenly the current rape kit retention law was applied through the cosmopolitan area of New York City. One can only speculate how New York hospitals located in more rural or suburban areas handle rape kit storage.

In addition to the above issues, New York Public Health law also states that "no hospital or treating practitioner shall be liable in civil damages for failing to comply with the requirements." This means that even if a rape survivor follows procedure and decides within the 30-day period to report their assault to law enforcement, if the hospital has failed to appropriately store the rape kit, or threw away the evidence before the minimum 30-day retention period, there are no consequences. There is no way to enforce the flawed law that governs how New York hospitals handle rape kits.

This is why we need the New York Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights in New York. The rape kit backlog has been widely covered, and there has been great progress in this area thanks to the tireless efforts of New York lawmakers like Assemblymember Simotas, Senator Hannon, and Governor Cuomo. But before we can get to the step of rape kit testing, we need to make sure there is still a rape kit to test in the first place. One of the key rights for the New York Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights is rape kit retention. Among other important rights, it also mandates that rape kits are transferred to labs and be kept for the duration of the statute of limitations or 20 years, whichever is longer.

It is already incredibly difficult to cope with the trauma of a sexual assault; rape survivors should not have to navigate a complicated system to fight to keep their rape kits out of garbage bins as well. Let's close this loophole and make sure New York is known for treating sexual assault survivors with dignity and compassion, not the state with that tosses rape kits after 30 days.

 

Washington Rising

By Leah Griffin

Rape is not like any other crime. Rape victims are often blamed for their own victimization. As such, rape is underreported and underinvestigated. Prosecutors can be reticent to charge rapists, and even convicted rapists do not always see justice. In some states, survivors are required to pay for their own evidence collection. Survivors are not informed about the results of their rape kits.

Washington State is leading the nation in rights afforded to survivors of sexual assault. In 2015, Representative Tina Orwall (D) sponsored House Bill 1068 which mandated the testing of 6000 backlogged rape kits in Washington State. The bill also created the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Task Force to address other issues concerning the investigation of rape, and treatment of survivors. The Task Force is a bipartisan group of legislators, survivors, and other stakeholders who have been diligently examining procedures, and crafting recommendations for legislation. On February 2nd, 2017, bipartisan lawmakers submitted SB 5686, which is Washington’s version the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. The bill will guarantee survivors the right to a legal advocate, the right to be interviewed by someone of the same gender, the right to be informed about the results of forensic evidence, and the right to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse. It is sponsored by Senator Ann Rivers (R ), a SAFE Task Force member who is committed to improving the system that fails so many sexual assault survivors around the country.

We believe that a Survivor’s Bill of Rights can be passed in all fifty states. To be raped in the United States is to be violated, and then re-traumatized, ignored, blamed, and ridiculed by society, and then re-traumatized, ignored, blamed, and ridiculed by the very system meant to provide justice. This is a system that will not improve on its own. Change requires the efforts of committed Members of Congress like Rep Orwall and Sen Rivers, and of individuals, like you, who are willing to speak up and take action. To abolish the systematic mistreatment of rape survivors in this country will require a fierce and determined movement.

Here is how you can help:

If you are a citizen of Washington State, you can contact your representative in support of the bill. You can find your senator here. You can find a script in support of the legislation here.

If you live elsewhere, and would like to help RISE promote similar legislation in your state, you can complete the RISE intake form here. Join the movement, and #riseup.

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

The following blog was originally posted by Refinery29.

By Amanda Nguyen

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.

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.