Amanda Nguyen, the Harvard graduate behind the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, is one of the five recipients of the 24th Heinz Awards. The Pennsylvania-based Heinz Family Foundation announced the award winners on Thursday.
Brandon Dennison, Kevin Jerome Everson, Rue Mapp, Sarah Szanton, and Nguyen will each receive $250,000 in recognition of their contributions to fields important to the late Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz.
The awards were established in 1993 by Teresa Heinz in honor of her husband after his 1991 death. (She and John Kerry married in 1995.)
Nguyen, who graduated from Harvard in 2013, is the CEO and founder of Rise, a nonprofit social justice organization that focuses on helping rape and sexual assault survivors. Nguyen began her activism after being sexually assaulted in college and learning that Massachusetts policy at the time allowed for rape kits to be destroyed after six months, even though the statute of limitations was 15 years. Nguyen has since been a key figure in passing more than 25 laws in the United States.
“It’s really important to me that people understand that Rise is much more than myself,” Nguyen told the Globe after learning she received the Heinz Award for Public Policy. “And one of the things that we’re going to be able to do is showcase the hard work that our Pennsylvania ‘Risers’ have been doing.
“We recently passed a law there that benefits 3.6 million rape survivors in Pennsylvania. The Heinz Foundation really cares about doing local good and I’m really grateful to be able to talk about the campaigns and the work that we’ve done on the local level in Pennsylvania.”
Nguyen is looking forward to the organization’s future developments, which have international implications, including a town hall during the United Nations General Assembly in September. Rise has drafted a resolution that demands that world leaders prioritize rape as an issue, rather than treat it as a subcategory of another issue.
“All people, no matter where they’re from or what their gender is, everyone deserves to be protected with dignity,” Nguyen said. “So we’re going to bridge the divide by having these leaders who are flying in for UNGA and survivors from their own countries, and we’re going to bring them together in this town hall and have a call and response.”
“So much about change is about just starting to believe,” she said. “We want to not be a voice for the voiceless, but to pass the mic.”