Content warning: explicit discussion of sexual assault.
Last week, Rolling Stone published a profile on “Westworld” actress Evan Rachel Wood. It was a pretty normal interview, except for one thing.
Wood, whose character on “Westworld” is raped multiple times, opened up in the interview about her own personal experience as a survivor of rape. Alex Morris, the author of the piece, included a quote from an email Wood sent him in which she explained why she told him her story, and why she wants to tell the world.
In her email to Morris, Wood wrote:
“Yes, I’ve been raped. By a significant other while we were together. And on a separate occasion, by the owner of a bar … I don’t believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer. Not given the state our world is in with its blatant bigotry and sexism.”
Morris’ article was meant mainly to highlight Wood’s work on “Westworld,” so it’s understandable that he chose to include only a small section of Wood’s email about her rape.
But after the article came out, Wood decided that wasn’t enough.
Wood published her “confession letter” in its entirety on Twitter.
“Well, since everything is out in the open now, figured I would share the confession letter I wrote to @RollingStone in its entirety,” Wood tweeted, with a screengrab of the email and the hashtag #NotOK.
The letter speaks to many of the reasons why survivors of rape often don’t come forward when they’ve been sexually assaulted, including a fear of being blamed, being accused of making it up, and being told it’s not a big deal. Wood opened up about feeling suicidal, about feeling like it was her fault, and about feeling ashamed of herself for not fighting back more.
In one of the most powerful passages in the letter, she talks about the complicated feelings survivors wrestle with and what she wishes other people understood about those feelings:
“[Rape] should be talked about, because it’s swept under the rug as nothing, and I will not accept this as ‘normal.’
It’s a serious problem.
I am still standing. I am alive. I am happy. I am strong. But I am still not okay.
I think it’s important for people to know that, for survivors to own that, and that the pressure to just get over it already should be lifted.
It will remind people of the damage that has been done and how the trauma of a few minutes can turn into a lifetime of fighting for yourself.
In the wake of the dozen sexual assault allegations against President-elect Donald Trump, several other celebrities have also come forward with their own stories of sexual assault.
Minnie Driver was assaulted in Greece when she was a teenager.
Amber Tamblyn was assaulted by an ex-boyfriend in a bar.
An estimated 63% of sexual assaults go unreported to the police according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center. Only 3 out of every 100 rapists will see jail time according to RAINN, using data from the Justice Department. This can no longer go unnoticed.
One way to change these statistics is for survivors to keep telling their stories until they’re really heard. While their stories are difficult to hear and read, by speaking up, these women are giving a voice to the millions of people who have experienced sexual assault and felt like they couldn’t seek help afterward.
It’s imperative, now more than ever before, that we listen to and share stories like Wood’s.
Of course, not every person who’s been raped or sexually assaulted may be ready to open up about their experience, and that’s OK too. What isn’t OK is what Wood describes at the beginning of her letter — feeling like she had to stay silent because she didn’t want to be accused of seeking attention or having her experience downplayed. She chose to come forward with her story to show other sexual assault survivors that they’re not alone — in their experiences and in their feelings.
As Wood wrote in her letter, “the trauma of a few minutes can turn into a lifetime of fighting for yourself.” As more people share their personal experiences, however, the fewer people will come out of traumatic experiences feeling ashamed and powerless. That makes a world of difference.