Evan Rachel Wood: Why I’m fighting to change California’s domestic violence laws

When I was a teenager, I met a man. He was older. He was well-established, and he drew me in.

We quickly became friends, which I was grateful for, because at the time, I didn’t have many. Eventually things turned romantic. I felt safe and loved. Soon, I had surrendered my agency, only to realize later that this was part of “the grooming process.”

It would be years until I understood what had happened. After multiple attempts to leave, I finally escaped, leaving behind death threats, starvation, brainwashing, rape, torture, deep humiliation and shame.

I later learned that what I had experienced was not unique to me. Abusive relationships fall into a similar pattern. My partner was charismatic, seductive, and powerful; but he was also sadistic, emotionally manipulative, and physically abusive.

I entered therapy and was able to slowly rebuild my life. Years later, I approached a lawyer with the goal of pressing charges against my abuser. I have evidence – a vast trove of photos and video – that, if admissible in court, would ensure my abuser is never able to prey upon a young woman again. But unfortunately, the statute of limitations in California is 3 years and had run out.

I wasn’t satisfied with this barrier, and asked what more I could do. “You could try to change the law,” she replied.

So that’s what I’m doing. Today, I’m speaking at the California Senate, with the goal of changing the statute of limitations in California from 3 years to 10, via a bill called the Phoenix Act. I’m not doing this alone; alongside me are five advocates. They include a teen survivor, a politician who was the victim of violence, a woman who identifies as part of the LGBT community and women of color, all of whom demonstrate that this plague knows no racial or economic boundaries. Our stories typify why we need this legislation. We represent the thousands like us who have suffered.

Changing the statute of limitations to 10 years is so important because it can take a long time to leave someone who has trapped you in darkness. Ten years allows victims the time they need to conclude the relationship and get out safely before seeking justice.

If the Phoenix Act passes, then an estimated 7 million people who are victims of domestic, partner and intimate violence in the state of California will benefit immediately. But we’re also here to build something bigger; civil rights movements have been known to start in California, but expand nationally quickly.

It can be hard to speak one’s truth; I don’t do this without fear. But I hold close the stories of the brave advocates who are working alongside me, as well as my firm belief in the power of visibility and our ability to heal each other through our collective experiences. I’m here so that the next generation won’t have to know the violence, fear and shame that I had to endure. I hope you’ll join me in this mission.

If you’re a survivor, or to learn more, please visit: www.phoenixact.com.

Evan Rachel Wood is an American actress, model, musician and advocate. She began acting in the 1990s. Starring roles in films such as ‘Thirteen,’ ‘Running with Scissors,’ ‘The Wrestler,’ and television shows such as ‘Once and Again,’ ‘American Gothic,’ and ‘The West Wing’ have established her as one of the defining actresses of her generation. Evan currently plays Delores Abernathy on ‘Westworld,’ is the lead singer of ‘Rebel and a Basketcase,’ serves as founder of the #IAMNOTOK movement, and is a mom to a 5 year old.