Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bills of Rights

Jennifer Li speaking at a press conference urging legislators to vote in favor of our California bill. Behind her stands CA State Treasurer Fiona Ma, CA Assemblymember Evan Low, and CA Assemblymember David Chiu.

During free time, I create justice for sexual assault survivors at Rise, an organization founded by 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Amanda Nguyen. To date, I have passed five Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bills of Rights. I lead the effort to grant 46 million rape survivors basic rights like rape kit retention and notification of rights.

For some survivors, the most painful part of the experience isn’t even the rape itself, but that our criminal justice system continually and infuriatingly fails and retraumatizes us.

The laws I help pass will never apply to myself 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.

I got involved with Rise after meeting Amanda Nguyen in April 2016. I wanted to change the way survivors are treated by our justice system. I lobbied for the passage of the historic Federal 2016 Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act.

Risers with U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Risers with U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

In 2017, I became the California State Director of Rise, and worked to successfully pass the California bill, AB 1312. I worked closely with Assemblywoman Gonzalez-Fletcher and Assemblyman Bermans’ offices’ through multiple renditions of the bill language, compromised with key stakeholders to ensure bi-partisanship, testified in front of committee members, spoke at press conferences to promote the bill, and wrote op-eds to push bill passage through the Governor’s desk.

Jennifer Li looking up
Jennifer Li testifying at the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee. To her left are the backs of CA Assemblymembers Marc Berman and Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher.

AB 1312 passed unanimously in the California Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committee and Appropriations Committees, the Assembly (77-0), the Senate (40-0), and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 12, 2017. I dyed my hair orange (Rise’s color) during that time.

AB 1312 required that the State of California notify rape victims of their rights in writing. You can see that part of the bill being implemented by the Office of the Attorney General here. For a more local example, here is the SF Police Department implementing the law.

I also identified a loophole in New York state law that allowed rape kits to be thrown away after 30 days. Governor Cuomo and the NY Legislature fixed that short retention timeline to 20 years in the 2019 Budget after a public push from the NY Rise team and our CEO Amanda Nguyen herself. In 2018, the Governor signed our full NY Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights into law.

Pennslyvania Governor Tom Wolf, Jennifer Li, Amanda Nguyen, and Pennslyvania Senator Wayne Langerholc.

In Pennslyvania, after our first attempt to introduce and pass a bill was unsuccessful following the retirement of our first sponsor, I found another legislator to champion our bill; Pennslyvania Wayne Lagerholc. We were able to pass SB 399 unanimously through both chambers, and Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill into law in July 2019.

I am now a Regional Coordinator and mentor for new Risers.