A Fashion Show With an Unexpected Focus: Sexual Assault Survivors

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in her words

The show, organized by Rise, was designed to upend a question often asked of survivors: ‘What were you wearing?’

Amanda Nguyen walking successful  the Rise subsister  manner  amusement   astatine  the Museum of Modern Art during New York Fashion Week.
Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

Alisha Haridasani Gupta

Sept. 12, 2021, 3:01 p.m. ET

— Amanda Nguyen, laminitis of the civilian rights enactment Rise, which hosted a manner amusement astatine New York Fashion Week to observe survivors


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On Friday evening, successful the mediate of New York Fashion Week, a tiny assemblage dressed successful everything from evening gowns and suits to T-shirts and sneakers, descended connected the Museum of Modern Art for a manner show.

But this amusement wasn’t astir a caller postulation of apparel oregon the designers down them. The absorption was connected intersexual battle — a signifier of unit truthful pervasive that the World Health Organization has deemed it a “global wellness occupation of epidemic proportions.”

To a soundtrack of popular anthems by Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, survivors walked down a catwalk acceptable up successful the lobby of the MoMA alongside activists and an eclectic sprinkling of stars: The histrion and erstwhile NFL subordinate Terry Crews, a subsister himself, opened the amusement successful a shiny achromatic suit and knee-high boots; the histrion Kelly Marie Tran, of Star Wars fame, strutted retired successful a bluish jumpsuit and glittering boots; and the astronaut Kellie Gerardi walked successful her navy bluish formation suit. Chanel Miller, the creator and writer of “Know My Name,” who, successful her intersexual battle lawsuit wrote a unfortunate connection successful 2016 arsenic “Emily Doe” that was truthful almighty it went viral connected BuzzFeed, glided down the catwalk successful a striped floor-length wrapper dress.

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Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

The lawsuit was hosted by the civilian rights enactment Rise to make a abstraction for survivors that celebrated “not conscionable surviving, but thriving,” said Amanda Nguyen, laminitis of the enactment and a rape survivor.

“The words ‘What were you wearing?’ oregon ‘What are you wearing?’ successful the manner discourse are fun,” Ms. Nguyen said. “It’s virtually saying, ‘I emotion the choices that you made.’”

“But years ago, erstwhile I was raped, I had to reply the aforesaid question and it was meant to beryllium shameful. It’s unfortunate blaming — it was meant to say, ‘You incurred the unit against you due to the fact that of the outfit you were wearing,’” she said.

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Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

For the survivors walking — dressed by designers including Chloé, Diane von Furstenberg and Veronica Beard — the amusement represented a mode to face that question caput connected and upend the stigma associated with intersexual assault.

“We’re taking backmost thing that was taken distant from america — our self-confidence,” said 1 of the participants, Jessica Long, a managing manager astatine an concern steadfast successful New York who, respective years ago, was drugged and assaulted portion connected a enactment travel overseas. She besides volunteers for Rise.

A fewer hours earlier the commencement of the manner show, successful a edifice suite successful Midtown Manhattan, Ms. Nguyen floated astir successful a achromatic Áo Dài — a accepted Vietnamese dress, and a motion to her practice — that she would deterioration portion walking down the runway that night. She raised her arms to showcase the outfit’s long, flowing sleeves.

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Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

Her outfit was covered successful the substance from the national Survivors' Bill of Rights — authorities that was projected by Ms. Nguyen successful 2016 and, successful a uncommon illustration of bipartisanship, sailed done some houses of Congress without a azygous dissenting vote. It was signed into instrumentality by President Barack Obama.

“You’ll look similar a delicate flutter of justice,” a person told her, arsenic Ms. Nguyen practiced her walk.

The formal was a collaboration with the artists Suzanne McClelland and Alix Pearlstein arsenic portion of their caller bid that places substance onto garments. In 2019, they created a trench overgarment with each the questions that were asked to Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of intersexual assault, successful her Senate testimony. In 2020, the artists printed Anita Hill’s grounds against Justice Clarence Thomas onto a garment dress.

As for the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, it was inspired by Ms. Nguyen’s ain idiosyncratic experience.

In 2013, successful her last twelvemonth astatine Harvard, she was raped successful her dormitory. After getting a rape kit astatine the infirmary — invasive exams that cod important grounds successful battle cases — and speaking with ineligible proposal groups, she learned 2 things: That rape trials often instrumentality years, adjacent decades, with debased condemnation rates, and, unless a subsister presses charges, rape kits are often destroyed earlier they are adjacent tested, though timelines alteration by state.

In Massachusetts, wherever Ms. Nguyen was surviving astatine the time, rape kits were being destroyed wrong six months, adjacent though the statute of limitations was 15 years. That meant that doubly a year, Ms. Nguyen had to use for an hold to support her kit successful the system, forcing her to relive the traumatic acquisition implicit and over.

“I conscionable retrieve feeling truthful betrayed. Survivors are told to spell to the constabulary and spell to the infirmary to get a rape kit lone to find retired that the strategy is similar a Kafkaesque crippled of ‘Saw,’” she said, referring to the fearfulness movie franchise. “Why is the platform truthful stacked against survivors?”

Navigating the labyrinthine process spurred Ms. Nguyen to make her organization, Rise, and lobby lawmakers for amended protections. The Survivors’ Bill of Rights mandates that rape kits are preserved for a state’s maximum statute of limitations, that victims are not charged a interest for getting rape kits and that victims tin entree results from the rape kit.

Since then, Rise has helped walk akin protections successful 30 states and D.C., and, successful 2018, Ms. Nguyen was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.

Over the past 2 years, Ms. Nguyen has besides been spearheading an effort for a planetary mentation of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, successful the signifier of a U.N. solution that volition beryllium introduced by Sierra Leone astatine the General Assembly aboriginal this month.

Broadly, the solution would impulse satellite leaders to supply “access to justness for survivors of intersexual violence,” said Ambassador Victoria Sulimani of Sierra Leone, who gave a code astatine the manner amusement connected Friday and walked down the catwalk.

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Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

But the chances of getting capable votes to walk the solution are slim, and similar astir General Assembly resolutions, it would apt beryllium nonbinding with fewer enforcement mechanisms.

In 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited Ms. Nguyen backmost to Congress to supply grounds connected “the implementation of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights” and to “explore further ways to promote much victims of intersexual unit to travel forward.”

The committee besides invited Mr. Crews to stock his acquisition of being assaulted by a apical enforcement astatine the bureau that antecedently represented him.

Mr. Crews and Ms. Nguyen stayed successful interaction aft the grounds and became adjacent friends — “she really hangs with my daughters,” Mr. Crews noted — truthful erstwhile she asked him to locomotion successful the show, helium “jumped astatine the opportunity.”

“I privation to springiness this contented each the publicity and attraction that it needs,” helium added.

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Credit...Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

Before the commencement of the show, Ms. Nguyen gave a speech. “Tonight is astir america reclaiming our power,” she said. “We are multitudes.”

Six dancers crept into the country and performed a regular titled ‘You Are Safe,’ yet stripping their costumes to uncover nude bodysuits covered successful the words “attack,” “target,” “community” and “dignity.”

Backstage, Ms. Nguyen gave the much than a twelve celebrities, activists and survivors a pep talk.

“This was a huffy dream,” she told them, “but present my favourite radical successful the satellite are here. Just person fun.”

Then they streamed retired wearing graphic printed streetwear, patterned cocktail dresses, monochromatic suits and T-shirts.

Ms. Nguyen closed retired the show. She walked down with her arms outstretched truthful the sleeves of her Áo Dài formed a benignant of superhero cape down her portion Little Mix’s “Wings” played successful the background.

The assemblage erupted into applause and cheers.

Sanam Yar contributed reporting.

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