Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander individuals in our community. We specifically would like to acknowledge the specific contributions and awareness brought to the topic of sexual violence. To celebrate this month, we want to recognize activists who are working to end sexual violence within their communities. We would also like to highlight those who have raised awareness and worked to improve the community’s collective understanding of sexual abuse. Below are five major advocates of Asian descent that you should know about.
Sohaila Abduli was born in Mumbai, India and is now a freelance writer. From the viewpoint of a survivor, advocate, and counselor, she has been instrumental in the ways we discuss rape. Through open discussions, she asks questions that are not usually bought up, such as: Is rape always a life-defining event? Is rape worse than death?
In the summer of 1980, Abduli was sexually abused in Bombay while walking with a friend. Three years later, she returned to Bombay to do research for her undergraduate thesis. She also wrote an article for Indian women’s magazine Manushi titled “I fought for my life… and won.”
As a response to her own experience and the hundreds of sexual violence cases in India, Abduli wrote a book addressing the issues of rape on many levels. This book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, incorporates the stories of sexual abuse survivors into a wide-ranged conversation of the multiple issues relating to rape around the world: what defines consent, rape being used as a political weapon, the “rape culture,” and bedroom dynamics.
Chanel Miller was initially known as “Emily Doe” in the infamous Brock Turner case, but Miller’s past has helped her to grow as an advocate for sexual violence. After being sexually assaulted, her victim impact statement became viral after it was published online by Buzzfeed. Her memoir, Know My Name, discusses her experiences with the criminal legal system, and how she dealt with the subsequent media attention and aftermath.
Her memoir and legal case became part of the #MeToo movement and shined a spotlight on the issue of sexual abuse on college campuses. In 2019, Miller was listed as an influential person in Time’s 100 Next list.
Emily Sulkowicz is an American performance artist and anti-rape activist who conducted the widely-known Mattress Performance as her senior thesis project. After being sexually abused by a former classmate, Sulkowicz carried her fifty-pound mattress with her throughout the academic year to protest against Columbia University’s mishandling of the sexual assault case.
During a protest organized by a student organization, No Red Tape, a total of 28 mattresses were stacked on the university president’s doorstep. These mattresses represented the 28 sexual assault complaints in Columbia’s Title IX case. As a result, the student organization, who reserved the space for No Red Tape, was charged a fine of $1,500.
Connie Chung is a Korean American journalist for NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, and MSNBC. In 2018, Chung wrote an open letter to Christine Blasey Ford who came forward about her sexual assault in 1982 by the now confirmed Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. In the letter, she disclosed her own assault story that occurred decades ago and applauded Ford for having the strength to tell the truth.
This supportive act between two sexual assault survivors demonstrated the power of solidarity in the #MeToo movement.
Amanda Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American social entrepreneur and civil rights activist. In 2013, Nguyen was sexually assaulted in Massachusetts and thus began her battler for survivor’s rights. She discovered that if she did not report the crime to law enforcement or if an extension was not filed, her rape kit would be destroyed after six months. Hearing this, Nguyen asserted that the system was partially broken due to the insufficient legal protections which was backed by similar stories she heard from other survivors. Shortly thereafter, she created the non-profit organization, Rise. Rise aims to protect the civil rights of sexual assault and rape survivors.
Nguyen also worked with New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen to pass a legislation called the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act. Signed into law in 2016 by President Barack Obama, this law protects the right to have the evidence of a rape kit preserved without charge for the duration of the statute of limitations.
This AAPI Heritage Month, we hope communities around the nation can come together to celebrate the many cultures, successes, and resilience of Asian American activists from the past decade and throughout history.
“Sohaila Abdulali.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, www.theguardian.com/profiles/so.
Isabella Phillips. Sydney Opera House. 10 Dec 2018, et al. “All About Sohaila Abdulali.” Sydney Opera House, 10 Dec. 2018, www.sydneyoperahouse.com/festivals/all-about-women/news/all-about-sohaila-abdulali.html.
“Chanel Miller Menu.” Chanel Miller, www.chanel-miller.com/.
Félix, Doreen St., et al. “The Irrepressibly Political Survivorship of Chanel Miller.” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-irrepressibly-political-survivorship-of-chanel-miller.
Bazelon, Emily. “Have We Learned Anything From the Columbia Rape Case?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 May 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/05/29/magazine/have-we-learned-anything-from-the-columbia-rape-case.html.
Schwiegershausen, Erica. “Columbia Student Carried Her Mattress to Graduation.” The Cut, The Cut, 19 May 2015, www.thecut.com/2015/05/columbia-student-carried-mattress-to-graduation.html#_ga=2.12054324.1688718162.1621036077-598712769.1621036076.
Chung, Connie. “Opinion | Dear Christine Blasey Ford: I, Too, Was Sexually Assaulted – and It’s Seared into My Memory Forever.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Oct. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dear-christine-blasey-ford-i-too-was-sexually-assaulted–and-its-seared-into-my-memory-forever/2018/10/03/2449ed3c-c68a-11e8-9b1c-a90f1daae309_story.html.
Forbes, Moira. “Amanda Nguyen’s Historic Fight For Sexual Assault Survivors.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 Feb. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/moiraforbes/2020/02/27/amanda-nguyens-historic-fight-for-sexual-assault-survivors/?sh=6aacd7c62c8d.
Vagianos, Alanna. “The Rape Survivor Who Turned Her Activism Into A Nobel Peace Prize Nomination.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 20 July 2018, www.huffpost.com/entry/rape-survivor-nobel-peace-prize-nomination_n_5b51e9a8e4b0fd5c73c49f7f.