National Politics

Raleigh actress Evan Rachel Wood takes fight for sexual abuse survivors to Congress

Raleigh native Evan Rachel Wood, of HBO’s “Westworld” fame, has long been an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. On Tuesday, she gave powerful testimony before Congress.

Wood spoke before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, joined by Rebecca O'Connor of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network and Amanda Nguyen and Lauren Libby of the nonprofit Rise. Along with the other women, Wood brought her stories of pain and resilience to advocate for survivors across the country.

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Evan Rachel Wood, Amanda Nguyen and Lauren Libby of the nonprofit Rise and Rebecca O'Connor of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) speak before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. House Judiciary Committee Hearings video.

Wood described herself as “a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor and the single mother of a young boy,” and the daughter of a survivor herself.

Wood was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her “Westworld” role last year.

Wood said she was using her influence and position as an actor, survivor, mother and advocate “to bring a human voice to the population of 25 million survivors in the U.S. who are currently experiencing inequality under the law and who desperately need basic civil rights.”

While movements such as “#MeToo” and “#TimesUp” have been empowering for survivors, Wood said, they’ve also been incredibly painful.

“To see the flood of stories so similar to my own was both freeing and soul-crushing,” she said.

“I thought I was the only human who experienced this, and I carried so much guilt and confusion about my response to the abuse,” said Wood, who then described her history as a survivor. “I accepted my powerlessness, and I felt I deserved it somehow.”

The Survivors’ Bill of Rights became a law with President Barack Obama’s signature in October 2016 after passing Congress with unanimous support. It set an example for state and local authorities on how to handle survivor cases. Most rape cases are adjudicated in state courts, where federal protections don’t necessarily apply.

The law gives sexual assault survivors the right to forensic medical exams with no cost to them; establishes that evidence collection kits, also known as “rape kits” are preserved for 20 years unless state statute sets a shorter limitation; gives survivors the right to access counselors; and gives survivors the ability to track their rape kit when and where it’s tested.

The Survivors’ Bill of Rights was intended to create the kind of accountability in the issue of untested rape kits that groups such as RAINN and End the Backlog have worked for for years.

The law is “a safety net that may save someone's life some day,” but there’s still work to be done, Wood said.

The legislation does not provide any funding to make rape kit testing automatic – leaving states to come up with the cash.

A handful of states have adopted their own version of the Survivor’s Bill of Rights. North Carolina is not one of them.

But Rise has a presence in the state, led by survivor Patty Killmer.

North Carolina alone has a backlog of more than 15,000 untested rape kits, according to a report released by the State Crime Laboratory on Wednesday. It would cost about $10.6 million to test all of the kits – about $700 per kit.

“This makes me think of my son,” Wood said during her testimony, “and the world he will be raised in and the day I will have to explain to him what rape means and why it happened to his mother.

“This starts with the rule of law and it starts with people leading by example and coming to the aid of our girls, but also our young boys. This is called progress, and it starts here.”

To watch the full testimony from Wood and others, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKEEB80KFdo.

 

Before we testified. #KeepBreathing #SurvivorsBillOfRights #EvanInDC #RISE

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