How AnnaLynne McCord saved a young girl's life
With the release of the stirring short film I Choose, AnnaLynne McCord lands another strike against the global sex slave trade and speaks up for women's rights at the same time. The inspiring actress opens up to us about the campaign — and how, literally, it saved one young survivor's life.
SheKnows: I love that I Choose wasn't your traditional PSA — and I especially love that you managed to say so much without ever saying a word. Can you elaborate on the moment inspiration struck and how you built on it from there?
AnnaLynne McCord: Thank you, first of all. Yes, it came to me in the shower (laughs), where all my ideas come to me. I went running upstairs in my towel to my friend Yelena, who was staying with me, and I was like, "I have this idea!" It was kind of a combination of a lot of things in my life coming to a head in a personal way — and me really wanting to obviously tell the story of human trafficking and continue to raise awareness for this — but on a very personal level I wanted to kind of vest, as an artist, my own story inside of it.
SK: You have been so brave in being open with your own story since your tell-all interview with Cosmo last year, which I'm sure is a hard thing to do but liberating, too. How has sharing your story impacted your humanitarian efforts?
AM: My story is that I was sexually assaulted when I was 18, so I am the girl who chooses, and I'm also the girl who didn't. So for me, it's two ends of the spectrum. I'm someone who, yes I was sexually assaulted, but I still love sex. I didn't love sex that night, but it didn't damage me; it didn't taint me. And I feel like in really getting to know my girls in Cambodia — the survivors of human trafficking that I've worked with over the last six years — the biggest thing that resonated with me was people who come with me on their first trip are very, like, (whispers), "Don't say anything sexual."
But my girls make sex jokes! You know? They laugh at it. They don't laugh obviously at the severity of the situation, but how are they supposed to cope with their story if they're crying about it for the rest of their lives? They've come to terms with it. It's no longer a part of who they are. It's no longer a part of their present, and they do what human beings with resilience and human spirit do... they make light out of very dark situations in order to survive and continue moving forward.
SK: I want to touch on that juxtaposition because there are really two truths at play: One, that the sex slave trade exists and needs to be discussed and, ultimately, stopped; but, two, that there isn't shame in sex of our own volition. Why is it important to connect those dots?
AM: That's what really stuck out to me that I felt like it is not a conversation. We whisper it. We're like, (whispers), "Did you know they were sexually assaulted?" "They were sex-trafficked." It's this whispery thing, which keeps the victim isolated even once they've been rescued. I don't want people whispering around me because I'm the girl who was sexually assaulted. Yeah, I was raped. OK? It's over. It's not happening anymore. I want to be a part of the conversation. I want to be a part of the jokes.
So that's a very broad scope of the underlying message behind it — of really wanting to kind of put this energy around the actual topic of sex and stop making it such a taboo thing and start making it something we talk about. 'Cause it's a beautiful thing when someone chooses, and whatever they do. If it's crazy and wild and rambunctious and all over the house, fantastic! Awesome. You chose. But all of us absolutely, 100 percent, have to stand up and do something about those who don't choose.
SK: You said in one of the behind-the-scenes videos for I Choose that you realize people may not be able to react positively at first to this dark underbelly of sex alongside the notion of sexual liberation. Have you found that people are able to reconcile the two through I Choose?
AM: The beautiful thing about human beings is that we all have a unique fingerprint and, in line with that, we all have unique ideas about the world. We create the world that we exist in, and when you bump into other worlds you stand to learn something. So in conversations about this topic, which can be quite controversial, I've noticed that my ability to be tangent and honest is something that really helps in the conversation. And not necessarily they just jump on the bandwagon and totally agree with me, but they know what I am saying is coming from a real, honest place.
SK: Absolutely! Well, you have a very special Christmas tradition that involves traveling to Cambodia and spending some time with survivors. Did you go this past year, and was this past year different at all from previous trips?
AM: I did go and, actually, thank you for asking because one of our girls on this trip sat on the floor, put her head in my lap and asked me to save her life. Because her liver is shutting down — she has Hepatitis B, and they don't have the funds for her treatment. Sorry, I'm getting a little choked up. She said, "Sister, please, I don't want to die. Please save my life." And I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I told her right then, "Yes. Whatever we have to do, we're going to figure it out." And I know that she's been someone who, as many of the survivors have, has heard promises, and sometimes they come good — obviously, now that she's in the organization they've come good — but a lot of times in her life she's heard promises that have turned out to be the complete opposite.
I wanted to really make a point that I was going to keep my promise... that this is real. I told her, "If you start thinking about who you want to be in college, I'm going to put you through college, and you have to live to see college. So that's how much I'm going to promise that you're going to live." And it was just a thing to give her to change her focus off of dying and onto living. It was very knee-jerk, as a lot of my responses in Cambodia can be, and then I was on the plane like, "What am I going to do?" (laughs)
AM: Well, I happened to be on Eva Airlines, which had just introduced global Wi-Fi. I'm online, and I get an email about an independent film that offered basically the money that I needed to be able to come good on my promise — now I'm getting chills — on the plane back from Cambodia. I literally touched down in Los Angeles and within 72 hours I got on a plane to Texas. I just wrapped that film yesterday. I got the email yesterday that, get this, [the girl who is] afraid that she's dying of Hepatitis B she just enrolled in medical school. She's going to be a medical doctor. I was able to send all the funds that she needs. They've got her processed for her passport going for the treatment she needs, which is in Thailand, so she has to fly or drive over the border, so she needed a passport. All of that stuff is happening now.
SK: Wow. Just wow.
AM: And then I'm wrapping yesterday, and the executive producer on the project said, "How many years of college does she need?" I had told him it was $4,000 a year. I said, "Six years to be a medical doctor." And he said, "What if I wrote you a check for $25 grand?" And I just fell apart in the makeup chair. I had just gotten my makeup done, and I was like, "You're ruining my makeup!" (laughs) And he was laughing. I just... this has been the best beginning to any year I have ever experienced in my entire life. So when you asked me if it was a different experience, it was remarkably different in the most incredible way. So just another moment for me to be so thankful for the job that I have and what it allows me to do, because I literally told the crew when I was getting in my car to fly out yesterday, "I don't think any of you knew that when you were stepping onto this project that it was going to save someone's life, but it did. So thank you for being a part of it."
SK: I have goosebumps all over now. You know, this is tough stuff. It's difficult for people to talk about young children being sexually abused and trafficked. But it does happen here. It is real. The heartbreaking truth is that 50 percent of those trafficked in the sex slave trade are kids. How do people get involved?
AM: Well, this is a huge part. Talking about it is a major thing that anybody can do — anybody can be a part of keeping the conversation going. If that means emailing your friends and saying, 'If you see something, say something.' This is something that I don't feel like enough people listen to their instincts. They see something, and they're like, "Well, maybe...." Just report it. You don't know if three other people have already reported it and you're the fourth person who adds a crucial little detail that the police and the FBI or whoever is on the case are looking for.
SK: Is there somewhere we can go to make donations or learn more?
AM: On my website, Ichoosecampaign.com, I have links to several different organizations — mine obviously, as well as a lot of other ones that I endorse. Some people want to work with someone here in the United States and some people want to support where they're from, and I completely respect that as long as we're joined — this is a global issue, so as long as we're doing our part, and we're doing something, we're helping to end this process.
SK: Is there anything else we should be doing at home, within the context of our families?
AM: The really, really important part — and this is what I have come to find since I've been working with human rights organizations — every human rights violation starts with a lack of education. The education part is crucial. You have children? Educate them. Talk about this with them. Make this a conversation to younger and younger children so they're aware. We tell girls, "Don't talk to strangers. Certain parts of your body are special, no one gets to touch them." All of these things are important.
Because what happens is it doesn't just start with sex trafficking — it also starts with abuse cycles. Someone touches you, and you don't know if it's right or wrong. It's so rampant. It starts with that, and you become the injured animal that the lioness zeroes in on when she wants her dinner because you put out this energy that you're vulnerable. So the education is the biggest part of it, and that again goes back to talking about it.
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