This UN Resolution Could Help Secure Rights For Sexual Assault Survivors Globally

by Hannah Golden
Kate Warren for Rise

Some of Hollywood's most outspoken advocates are calling on leaders to take up the issue of sexual assault not just on home soil but on the world at large. A group of celebrities is working to bring forward a UN resolution for rights of sexual assault survivors as early as this year. The campaign, rolled out this week, is led by Rise, a national nonprofit working to pass legislation for sexual assault survivors.

"Sexual violence is about power. I want any survivor from any corner of the globe to feel that they are heard, that they are not alone," Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor and the founder of Rise, tells me in an interview for Elite Daily. "Ultimately, it's about making sure that everyone, regardless of where they live on the planet, is afforded human dignity."

Nguyen passed the country's first law to protect specifically survivors like herself, the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights (BOR), in October 2016 under President Barack Obama. That law created a standard for how survivors must be treated by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Since then, Rise has worked to get BORs modeled after the original passed in 14 U.S. states and Japan, including two each in New York and Virginia.

I believe in a world where victims of sexual assault do not also have to be victims of a justice system that does not protect them.

Now Rise, joined by a star-studded cast, will go before the UN's General Assembly to propose a resolution that will enshrine a similar framework for providing basic rights to survivors on a global scale (the exact date of her UN appearance will be determined in coming weeks, and she expects it within the next year). The UN estimates that about 35 percent of women around the world — some 1.3 billion people — have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, though some studies, it notes, puts that figure as high as 70 percent. And 120 million girls globally have experienced forced intercourse or sexual acts specifically.

"The United Nations (UN) was founded to protect the equality of all people, regardless of who they are or where they live," writes Nguyen in a petition for the resolution. "Yet the UN General Assembly has never passed a resolution focused solely on sexual violence."

Sam Kittner for Rise

The big names joining Rise's campaign include Terry Crews, Evan Rachel Wood, Kelly Marie Tran, and Cameron Esposito. Crews joined Nguyen on Monday, June 26 at the Senate Judicial Committee hearing to testify about his experience with assault in Hollywood. Wood has also been outspoken about her sexual abuse, including in the form of intimate partner violence.

"It is time that we right a wrong that has for so long affected victims of this crime," Star Wars' Tran tells Elite Daily via email. "I believe in a world where victims of sexual assault do not also have to be victims of a justice system that does not protect them." That people of color — women especially, like Nguyen —are leading the charge is "inspirational," she adds.

Meanwhile, Crews' presence at the Senate hearing and in the UN effort is especially noteworthy given that males are often overlooked in regards to sexual assault. "He represents what many survivors look like," Nguyen says. "Survivors come in all different shapes and sizes and forms, and it was incredibly important to have him there to show that these civil rights aren't just for a subset of people who are impacted by it."

Nguyen began laying the groundwork for the UN resolution in early 2017 after people around the world told her that they needed these rights abroad. The decision to go global was also a personal one for Nguyen, a daughter of refugees. The resolution, she notes, would be designed to include not just member states and their citizens, but refugees and stateless people as well.

"There can be no peace without the opportunity to seek justice," Nguyen tells me. "Peace doesn't only mean the lack of visible conflict."

In general, General Assembly resolutions brought before the UN, like Nguyen's, are non-binding, meaning they aren't legislative and don't dictate any international laws or protocols (they're often adopted by consensus and not by vote). While nothing requires member states to adhere to the resolution, it's on each country to follow the recommendations and guidelines therein. Rather, the value of resolutions (like the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights) is making a country's commitment to an issue both public and official.

"It's not only that we're asking people to care; it's that people can do something about it," Nguyen says. "It's an actionable thing all global leaders can get on board with."

The resolution Rise is looking to pass is said to contain guidelines for how member states can better protect the rights of survivors in line with the federal U.S. law. Among the guidelines the resolution is expected to contain are rights specifically pertaining to refugees, education about their rights asa survivor, and the right not to marry one's rapist. Provisions of other BORs have included protection against destroying DNA test kits, extension or removal of statutes of limitations (which place time limits on how long after a crime someone has to pursue a criminal case for it), access for survivors to their police and medical reports, and free showers at medical facilities.

Creating an international standard like this, Wood tells me in an email, would send a message to survivors that they are believed. Of the statute of limitations specifically, she adds, "People underestimate just how long it takes some people to reconcile their abuse. I don't believe a crime like this should have a 'shelf life'."

As for everyday citizens, Nguyen stresses they can help by simply signing the petition and encouraging others to do the same, adding, "Those numbers really matter."

When asked what she'd tell the estimated 1.3 billion female survivors, Tran says, "I'm sorry that we live in a world that has not listened to your stories for so long. I'm sorry that in your time of need, you may not have received the protections and care that you deserve. You did nothing wrong. We're fighting for you."

Wood echoes the sentiment, saying, "You are not broken and you are worthy of love. Let go of the shame. Keep fighting to be heard."

Passing the resolution would be personal for Wood, too. "If we can take that pain and turn it into action and legislation and real change," she tells me, "it would make me feel like the things that have happened to so many of us weren't in vain."