Shepard Fairey’s poster of Sexual Bill of Rights activist Amanda Nguyen spells hope for sexual assault survivors everywhere.
HOPE, artist Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster of Barack Obama, was perhaps the most recognizable visual signpost of his campaign — a crucial moment in American history. Now he’s immortalized activist and TED Fellow Amanda Nguyen, whose organization Rise has spent the last several years passing bipartisan legislation to ensure that rights for sexual assault survivors are consistent across state lines. In 2016, Rise’s Sexual Assault Bill of Rights Act—which gives survivors control over the preservation of their rape kits—wasunanimously passed in the House and Senate and signed into federal law by President Obama one year ago.
Nguyen, who was recently honored with a Nobel Peace Prize 2019 nomination, says that it was overwhelming to have Fairey transform her portrait, taken by photographer Bret Hartman, into a poster. “When I first saw it, I think I literally screamed. I grew up looking at Shepherd’s iconic portraits, and the first time I saw his work was his Obama HOPE poster. The fact that I am one of them today is indescribable,” she says.
The poster was commissioned as one of several as a part of We the Future, a campaign spearheaded by art-for-social-change design lab Amplifier to celebrate young leaders at the forefront of change. “Their work is not partisan. It is forming the basis of a new era of human and environmental rights,” Amplifier writes on its Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the posters. “These icons carry the energy of countless communities and are already showing us a path forward, a way out of this time of uncertainty. These leaders are showing us that the Future is already here, and the work is already happening. It’s time to listen to their voices.”
Fairey’s original poster was captioned “We the Future: Rewrite the Law,” but Nguyen asked him to change the poster to say “We the Future: Believe Survivors” in solidarity with Dr Christine Blasey Ford and other accusers coming forward during the week of Brett Kavanaugh’s Congressional hearings prior to his Supreme Court appointment.
“It’s been incredible to see so many survivors who have hidden behind shame and guilt of their own stories finally feel safe enough to step forward and reallocate that blame,” says Nguyen. “The stigma-breaking phenomenon of this #MeToo moment has empowered many survivors to channel their trauma into action. Yet there is still a lot of work to do in order to create a society that treats rape seriously and not only makes way for survivors to come forward, but also to be believed.”
Nguyen says she feels more passionate than ever about helping to create a safe and supportive environment for survivors to come forward without infringing on the rights of the accused. In addition to passing the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights in 15 states, Rise is committed to carrying on its work until every state recognizes equality under the law for all survivors.
But Rise is not stopping at the US border. The organization has also recently created a petition asking the United Nations to pass a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Resolution that would uphold the basic rights of survivors of sexual violence as a fundamental human right.
“There are an estimated 1.3 billion sexual assault survivors in the world, and it is crucial that justice not depend on geography,” says Nguyen. “We’ve been working with international leaders for several years, discussing sexual violence in refugee camps, schools and marginalized communities throughout the world. We’ve taken our conversations with world leaders to the United Nations to discuss how we can make ending sexual violence a priority.”
Nguyen notes there has never been a United Nations resolution focusing on sexual violence despite a plethora of abuses—such as using sexual violence as a tactic for radicalizing citizens to become violent extremists, the existence of bribery fees to report sexual assault to law enforcement and so on.
“If we want to create a more peaceful world, removing all barriers to justice, education and basic human rights is necessary,” says Nguyen. “Let’s work towards a future where survivors everywhere can come forward, be heard, and be believed.”