A Fashion Show With an Unexpected Focus: Sexual Assault Survivors

“Tonight is about us reclaiming our power.”

— Amanda Nguyen, founding father of the civil rights group Rise, which hosted a vogue present at New York Fashion Week to rejoice survivors

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On Friday night, in the course of New York Fashion Week, a small crowd wearing all the pieces from night robes and fits to T-shirts and sneakers, descended on the Museum of Modern Art for a vogue present.

But this present wasn’t a few new assortment of garments or the designers behind them. The focus was on sexual assault — a type of violence so pervasive that the World Health Organization has deemed it a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.”

To a soundtrack of pop anthems by Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, survivors walked down a catwalk arrange within the foyer of the MoMA alongside activists and an eclectic sprinkling of stars: The actor and former NFL participant Terry Crews, a survivor himself, opened the present in a shiny black go well with and knee-high boots; the actor Kelly Marie Tran, of Star Wars fame, strutted out in a blue jumpsuit and glittering boots; and the astronaut Kellie Gerardi walked in her navy blue flight go well with. Chanel Miller, the artist and writer of “Know My Name,” who, in her sexual assault case wrote a sufferer assertion in 2016 as “Emily Doe” that was so highly effective it went viral on BuzzFeed, glided down the catwalk in a striped floor-length wrap gown.

ImageTerry Crews, who opened the style present, gave testimony with Ms. Nguyen on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2018 on “the implementation of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights.”Credit…Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

The occasion was hosted by the civil rights group Rise to create an area for survivors that celebrated “not just surviving, but thriving,” stated Amanda Nguyen, founding father of the group and a rape survivor.

“The words ‘What were you wearing?’ or ‘What are you wearing?’ in the fashion context are fun,” Ms. Nguyen stated. “It’s literally saying, ‘I love the choices that you made.’”

“But years ago, when I was raped, I had to answer the same question and it was meant to be shameful. It’s victim blaming — it was meant to say, ‘You incurred the violence against you because of the outfit you were wearing,’” she stated.

ImageKelly Marie Tran strolling within the Rise survivor vogue present.Credit…Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

For the survivors strolling — dressed by designers together with Chloé, Diane von Furstenberg and Veronica Beard — the present represented a solution to confront that query head on and upend the stigma related to sexual assault.

“We’re taking back something that was taken away from us — our self-confidence,” stated one of many individuals, Jessica Long, a managing director at an funding agency in New York who, a number of years in the past, was drugged and assaulted whereas on a piece journey abroad. She additionally volunteers for Rise.

‘Flutter of Justice’

A few hours earlier than the beginning of the style present, in a lodge suite in Midtown Manhattan, Ms. Nguyen floated round in a white Áo Dài — a standard Vietnamese gown, and a nod to her heritage — that she would put on whereas strolling down the runway that evening. She raised her arms to showcase the outfit’s lengthy, flowing sleeves.

ImageMs. Nguyen tries on her outfit earlier than the present. It was designed by the artists Suzanne McClelland and Alix Pearlstein, and coated within the textual content from the federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights.Credit…Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

Her outfit was coated within the textual content from the federal Survivors' Bill of Rights — laws that was proposed by Ms. Nguyen in 2016 and, in a uncommon instance of bipartisanship, sailed by way of each homes of Congress with out a single dissenting vote. It was signed into regulation by President Barack Obama.

“You’ll look like a delicate flutter of justice,” a good friend informed her, as Ms. Nguyen practiced her stroll.

The gown was a collaboration with the artists Suzanne McClelland and Alix Pearlstein as a part of their current sequence that locations textual content onto clothes. In 2019, they created a trench coat with all of the questions that had been requested to Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, in her Senate testimony. In 2020, the artists printed Anita Hill’s testimony towards Justice Clarence Thomas onto a shirt gown.

As for the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, it was impressed by Ms. Nguyen’s personal private expertise.

In 2013, in her closing 12 months at Harvard, she was raped in her dormitory. After getting a rape equipment on the hospital — invasive exams that gather essential proof in assault instances — and talking with authorized recommendation teams, she discovered two issues: That rape trials usually take years, even a long time, with low conviction charges, and, except a survivor presses costs, rape kits are sometimes destroyed earlier than they’re even examined, although timelines differ by state.

In Massachusetts, the place Ms. Nguyen was residing on the time, rape kits had been being destroyed inside six months, despite the fact that the statute of limitations was 15 years. That meant that twice a 12 months, Ms. Nguyen needed to apply for an extension to maintain her equipment within the system, forcing her to relive the traumatic expertise again and again.

“I just remember feeling so betrayed. Survivors are told to go to the police and go to the hospital to get a rape kit only to find out that the system is like a Kafkaesque game of ‘Saw,’” she stated, referring to the horror film franchise. “Why is the deck so stacked against survivors?”

Navigating the labyrinthine course of spurred Ms. Nguyen to create her group, Rise, and foyer lawmakers for higher protections. The Survivors’ Bill of Rights mandates that rape kits are preserved for a state’s most statute of limitations, that victims aren’t charged a charge for getting rape kits and that victims can entry outcomes from the rape equipment.

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

Over the final two years, Ms. Nguyen has additionally been spearheading an effort for a world model of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, within the type of a U.N. decision that might be launched by Sierra Leone on the General Assembly later this month.

Broadly, the decision would urge world leaders to supply “access to justice for survivors of sexual violence,” stated Ambassador Victoria Sulimani of Sierra Leone, who gave a speech on the vogue present on Friday and walked down the catwalk.

Image Ambassador Victoria Sulimani of Sierra Leone collaborating within the Rise survivor vogue present. The nation has been working with Ms. Nguyen on a U.N. decision to supply “access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.” Credit…Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

But the probabilities of getting sufficient votes to go the decision are slim, and like most General Assembly resolutions, it could doubtless be nonbinding with few enforcement mechanisms.

‘Multitudes’

In 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited Ms. Nguyen again to Congress to supply testimony on “the implementation of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights” and to “explore additional ways to encourage more victims of sexual violence to come forward.”

The committee additionally invited Mr. Crews to share his expertise of being assaulted by a prime government on the company that beforehand represented him.

Mr. Crews and Ms. Nguyen stayed in contact after the testimony and have become shut buddies — “she actually hangs with my daughters,” Mr. Crews famous — so when she requested him to stroll within the present, he “jumped at the opportunity.”

“I want to give this issue all the publicity and attention that it needs,” he added.

ImageBackstage, Ms. Nguyen gathered with the greater than a dozen individuals who walked within the present.Credit…Stephanie Mei-Ling for The New York Times

Before the beginning of the present, Ms. Nguyen gave a speech. “Tonight is about us reclaiming our power,” she stated. “We are multitudes.”

Six dancers crept into the room and carried out a routine titled ‘You Are Safe,’ finally stripping their costumes to disclose nude bodysuits coated within the phrases “attack,” “target,” “community” and “dignity.”

Backstage, Ms. Nguyen gave the greater than a dozen celebrities, activists and survivors a pep speak.

“This was a mad dream,” she informed them, “but now my favorite people in the world are here. Just have fun.”

Then they streamed out carrying graphic printed streetwear, patterned cocktail attire, monochromatic fits and T-shirts.

Ms. Nguyen closed out the present. She walked down along with her arms outstretched so the sleeves of her Áo Dài shaped a type of superhero cape behind her whereas Little Mix’s “Wings” performed within the background.

The crowd erupted into applause and cheers.

Sanam Yar contributed reporting.