“Westworld” star Evan Rachel Wood testified before Congress Tuesday in a hearing about the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act.
Wood described in detail her experience with rape, domestic violence, and the PTSD she lived with in the decade following. She also revealed that she was hospitalized after attempting suicide twice, and has coped with addiction, depression, agoraphobia, and night terrors in the wake of her assaults.
The hearing was meant to pressure Congress into making sure assault survivors have basic rights at a state level
Wood and four other witnesses testified to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during the hearing on the 2016 bill that was passed with bi-partisan support. The bill as it stands gave assault survivors specific rights at a federal level, but not for cases at a state level.
The other witnesses included Amanda Nguyen, the CEO and founder of RISE, and Rebecca O’Connor, the Vice President of the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).
In a statement, Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte explained the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act and how it worked to preserve rape kits for assault survivors:
“This legislation assured that in federal cases, a victim would have the right to have their rape kit preserved for the duration of the statute of limitations or up to 20 years; a victim would not have to pay for their own forensic examination; a victim would be informed of any results of their forensic examination; would be provided with written policies on forensic testing kits; and finally, would be informed before their sexual assault examination kit was destroyed and be permitted to request further preservation.
These rights are now available to victims of federal crimes but, unfortunately, are not consistently recognized by every state-and of course, it is in the states where most sexual assault cases are prosecuted.”
Wood and her fellow witnesses were there to help keep momentum going and get the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act passed in all 50 states.
Wood detailed her experiences of sexual assault in an emotional testimony
During her five-minute long statement, Wood introduced herself as an artist as well as a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. She explained that she wanted to use her position of power and privilege to bring a “human voice” to the 25 million survivors in the US who “experience inequality under the law.”
“If you can’t hear the whole truth, you will never know true empathy,” Wood said. “And I believe in the saying, ‘If we have to live through it, you should have to hear it.’”
• Warning, the below description contains graphic detail
Wood’s testimony began with a description of her domestic violence experience she calls “a toxic mental, physical, and sexual abuse.”
“It started slow but escalated over time, including threats against my life, severe gas-lighting and brainwashing, [and] waking up to the man that claimed to love me raping what he believed to be my unconscious body,” Wood said. “And the worst part: Sick rituals of binding me up by my hands and feet to be mentally and physically tortured until my abuser felt I had proven my love for them.”
“While I was tied up and being beaten and told unspeakable things, I truly felt like I could die,” Wood said. “Not just because my abuser said to me, ‘I could kill you right now,’ but because in that moment I felt like I left my body and I was too afraid to run.”
Wood described feeling frozen and full of “utter shame and despair.” She said a piece of her was “stolen,” and it altered the course of her life.
“Because of this abuse […] when I was pushed onto the floor of a locked storage closest by another attacker, after hours at a bar, my body instinctively knew what to do: Disappear, go numb, make it go away,” Wood said. “Being abused and raped previously made it easier for me to be raped again — not the other way around.”
Wood’s testimony brought attention to the aftermath of rape and how “the scars last a lifetime.”
“Seven years after my rapes — plural — I was diagnosed with long term PTSD,” Wood said. “Which I had been living with all that time without knowledge about my condition. I simply thought I was going crazy.”
The actress said she struggled with “depression, addiction, agoraphobia, and night terrors.”
“So many times a sleeping partner of mine has awoken to their love screaming in the night and gasping for air in a pool of sweat after having some sort of vivid dream of my abuser, hearing them say my name so loudly in my ear,” Wood said.
She also described nights spent staying awake and holding a baseball bat after hearing a loud noise, convinced another attacker was coming to hurt her.
“I struggled with self-harm to the point of two suicide attempts which landed me in a psychiatric hospital for a short period of time. This was however a turning point in my life when I started seeking professional help to deal with my trauma and mental stress.
"But others are not so fortunate, and because of this rape is often more than a few minutes of trauma, but slow death.”
Wood went on to discuss her son and how she understands how important it is to address the societal pressures put on men as well as women that can lead to toxic relationships and behavior. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act is an important base for societal norms when it comes to how survivors are perceived by the government.
“[This bill is] the recognition of basic civil rights for sexual assault survivors and serves as a first step,” Wood said. “It’s a safety net that may help save someone’s life one day.”
Watch the full committee hearing below, which also included testimony from another survivor named Lauren Libby, who is the Chief of Staff of RISE. Wood’s testimony begins about 19 minutes into the video.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can visit RAINN or call its hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member.