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Speaker urges Cuomo to sign 'Bill of Rights' for sexual assault survivors

Amanda Nguyen, president and founder of Rise, a

Amanda Nguyen, president and founder of Rise, a millennial-driven civil rights group that was a precursor to the #MeToo movement, spoke at Farmingdale State College on Monday, sharing her story about sexual assault. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

A prominent national rape victims advocate told Farmingdale State College students Monday to urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign legislation, which passed the State Assembly and Senate in June, creating a "Bill of Rights" for sexual assault survivors.

Amanda Nguyen, president and founder of Rise, a nonprofit that fights for sexual assault survivors to be protected through the reporting process with law enforcement, said the measure would guarantee victims are informed of their rights before consenting to a physical examination or police interview.

The Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights stipulates that victims can consult with a rape crisis center, obtain a free forensic examination and have access to emergency contraception. Victims also would be informed if their rape kit is moved to a storage facility or if DNA evidence potentially identifies a suspect.

Nguyen urged a crowd of more than 100 Farmingdale State College students Monday to tweet at Cuomo and urge him to sign the bill.

"We hope that he will  take a survivor's  life seriously — and signs it into law," said Nguyen, a rape survivor and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. 

A provision in the 2018-19 state budget, signed into law by Cuomo, requires rape kits to be stored for a minimum of 20 years from the date of collection. Previously, rape kits in New York were destroyed within 30 days if a police report was not filed.

Cuomo spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said the Bill of Rights legislation, "along with the hundreds of bills passed by the legislature last session, is currently under review by counsel’s office. But there should be no doubt that protecting survivors of sexual violence is a top priority for this administration.”

Nguyen, a California native, said she was raped in 2013 while attending Harvard University. She consented to a rape kit but chose not to press charges to focus on her career, which later included a tenure as deputy White House liaison for the State Department.

At the time, Massachusetts state law stipulated that if a victim does not file charges, her rape kit would be destroyed within six months unless an extension is sought. The statute of limitations for rape in Massachusetts is 15 years.

Dismayed by the system, Nguyen founded Rise and lobbied Congress for passage of a national Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights, which guarantees that rape kits are preserved for a state's relevant statute of limitations.

The measure unanimously passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016. Similar legislation has now been passed in 18 states, including Massachusetts .

"I know deeply how broken our justice system can be," said Nguyen, who is training with NASA to become an astronaut. "But I also have experienced the extraordinary change that ordinary people can make. I have learned that in America no one is invisible when we demand to be seen."

Frank Rampello, Farmingdale's Title IX coordinator, whose duties include addressing campus complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, said the school is committed to protecting sexual assault survivors.

"No one should suffer in silence," said Rampello, who organized Nguyen's visit to the campus. "We support you and stand ready to help."

A 2016 Justice Department study found one in five female undergraduates are raped while in college.

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