On April 23, Evan Rachel Wood testified in front of the California Senate Public Safety Committee, in support of a bill that, if it passes, will expand rights to victims of domestic violence. In the piece below, she reveals the details of an abusive relationship that she's never previously disclosed; it is her full unedited testimony.
Following Woods' testimony, you can also read the testimony of another survivor, Shanta "Shay" Franco-Clausen, as well as the testimony of California State Senator Susan Rubio.
As a result of Wood's efforts, the bill passed unanimously out of Committee. It has a long way to go, but she's committed to seeing it through.
When I was a teenager, I met a Man.
Before meeting him, I only had two long term relationships in my high school years—with teenage boys, very close to my age.
He and I became fast friends, which I was grateful for, because at the time I didn't have many.
I looked up to him in many ways and felt special to be chosen. I felt like we had a unique bond. I had no intention of it turning into something romantic.
When it eventually did, I wasn't sure how to stop it. He had a certain charisma and power over everyone he came in contact with, and I quickly surrendered to his charms. In the beginning, he treated me like a princess. I saw his temper directed at other people, but I wrote it off to him just being complicated and misunderstood. I felt bad for him. I never thought he would hurt me. I trusted him completely. He was my mentor, my savior, and my best friend. He would tell me, 'it was us against the world,' and I believed him. I thought I had fallen deeply in love and I thought it was my duty to keep my partner happy at all costs.
I felt bad for him. I never thought he would hurt me. I trusted him completely.
I was smart, but a smart 18-year-old is still an 18-year-old, and I was completely naive to the red flags he was showing me since the day we met. It wasn't until much later that I realized everything he had told me was a lie and part of what is called 'The Grooming Process.'
He moved very fast in the relationship, asking me to move in with him almost immediately.
I was unsure of this decision, but threw caution to the wind, as he made it seem so romantic.
He had also hidden a terrible drug and alcohol problem from me.
Soon it was clear, there was a certain way he wanted me to look, otherwise I would endure name calling and ridicule.
He started to cut me off from my close friends and family, one by one, by exhibiting rage in some form or another when I was in contact with them.
The only way I knew how to calm him was to give him what he wanted, which was me, all to himself, in total isolation.
He had bouts of extreme jealousy, which would often result in him wrecking our home, cornering me in a room, and threatening me.
I was told 'no one would ever love me like him,' 'no one would want me if I left him,' and 'he would kill anyone who touched me.'
His demands became unreachable, and nothing I did was ever good enough. I would run around the house all day trying to solve the 'problems,' to fix whatever made him mad, but it only caused more abuse. I ended up adopting the persona of the person he wanted me to be and losing myself completely. It became my new normal. I did this for survival, to avoid an explosion. I became numb and went along with whatever he wanted me to, managing to smile and drowning in gallows humor. Years later, my therapist would identify some of my behavior as Stockholm Syndrome.
I witnessed my abuser threatening people with force, or legal action, if he worried they would expose him in any way. He bragged about being able to have people killed because he was allegedly friends with multiple gangs, and I watched him illegally collect data on people that he could use as blackmail.
By the time I realized I was in a bad situation, I felt completely trapped and terrified for my life.
He gifted me a cell phone, which I found out he was monitoring. He downloaded spyware onto my computer and hacked into my emails and social media accounts, so I could not reach out for help. When my friends and family tried to intervene, I swiftly told them to leave and that I was fine, because I was afraid of what he would do.
He broke me down through means of starvation, sleep deprivation, and threats against my life, sometimes with deadly weapons, which would result in me having severe panic attacks where I was unable to breathe or stop shaking.
By the time I realized I was in a bad situation, I felt completely trapped and terrified for my life.
If I tried to sleep, he would throw things at me, or instruct me to do drugs, which would disorient me, and keep me awake, sometimes for days. Once I was weakened by no sleep and little food, he would sometimes force me to partake in acts of fear, pain, torture, and humiliation, which he would videotape and which I felt powerless to stop.
Only after the acts were done, was I allowed to sleep. In some of these tapes he can be heard threatening to kill me, threatening my friends, or threatening to kill members of my family.
He also threatened to leak parts of the footage, or photographs he had taken, as a way to keep me quiet.
I mustered the courage to leave several times, but he would call my house incessantly and threaten to kill himself. On one occasion, I returned to try and defuse the situation, he cornered me in our bedroom, and asked me to kneel. Then he tied me up by my hands and feet. Once I was restrained he beat me and shocked sensitive parts of my body with a torture device called a violet wand. To him it was a way for me to prove my loyalty. The pain was excruciating. It felt like I left my body and a part of me died that day. The worst part was I still felt it was somehow my fault. Society had told me: "I should just leave when someone hits me," but this was so much more complicated and so much scarier than anything had ever prepared me for. I didn't know what to call it.
After this incident, I continued to play along with whatever he wanted, enduring constant, daily abuse, and, on occasion, rape, until I found a way to escape safely.
Once I was finally out of my abuser's control, I did whatever I could to feel safe, which meant putting time and space between me, him, and the abuse. The shame is still overwhelming.
It's taken all of my strength to speak publicly and to pursue this. The fear of being judged by society is debilitating and the fear of retaliation from my abuser is paralyzing. By speaking to you today and every day, I put myself at risk, as I have no protection. I have had to go through intense therapy to even fully understand what has happened to me. I have been diagnosed with complex PTSD, including disassociation, panic attacks, night terrors, agoraphobia, impulse control, chronic pain in my body, among other symptoms.
I am still in the process of working through this.
The final push into creating the Phoenix Act was the crushing realization, years later, that he had done this to several people, and it was very likely there were more victims. I tried to take my evidence to the state, through a lawyer, in an attempt to stop this from happening to anyone else.
I have lived with the silence and shame for too long and it has been unbearable.
My evidence, which is vast and includes photographs and video, not just reliant on memory, can not be viewed by the state because the Statute of Limitations on my case has run out.
I have lived with the silence and shame for too long and it has been unbearable. It has taken years from my life because I was too afraid to tell anyone. I know that this bill will not affect my case, but I urge you to vote yes on the Phoenix Act to create a cushion for victims to leave their dangerous situations, get the help they need, and come back from their trauma, in order to pursue justice and stop serial abusers as long as they have undeniable evidence. We do not wish to create new laws or harsher punishments, only more time if the evidence meets the criteria we are putting forward. Thank you for your time and for hearing us today.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Shanta Franco-Clausen and I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you all today.
I am here to speak to you about CA Phoenix Act, SB 273, introduced by Senator Rubio, that was drafted in response to the outcry of people like me and Evan, for the need to expand its scope and extend the statute of limitations as it pertains to prosecution of perpetrators in intimate partnerships and domestic violence.
I think we need to really shift the focus and interpretation of this law, from the prosecution of perpetrators, to being a tool for current victims and the survivors of intimate partner violence.
At the age of 12, I experienced my first punch, slap, and taste of strangulation.
I want to share my story, because I hope that I can show the importance of this change, not only for me but to the thousands of nameless and faceless women that are currently facing, what I first faced at the young age of 12.
At the age of 12, I experienced my first punch, slap, and taste of strangulation, IPV extends to those who target young girls like me, forcing me to become an "intimate partner," as well as a victim of human and sex trafficking.
I start here because I had developed, at the young age, what relationships would look like and that abuse was normal.
By 18, I had a few "boyfriends" and domestic violence had continued to be a part of every relationship. Violence was not "domestic," it was just "my boyfriend" and that was "how" boys treated girls.
By 20, I had continued the cycle of violence from one "bad" relationship to the next. I was hit, punched, beaten to the ground; I did not realize the relationship as "violent." I am really embarrassed to share, as this strong and confident woman standing before you, it wasn't until 2014 that I became informed and finally able to speak. At the age of 37 is when I realized that I was a victim of domestic violence.
I was hit, punched, beaten to the ground; I did not realize the relationship as "violent."
I am here today because it took me 27 years to realize that "it" was violence, "it" was against the law, and to know "I" had any power to do something.
If I had started the infamous clock, and activated the statute of limitations timer… I would have lapsed the current law 26 times.
According to the current law, I only had one to three years to…
Step One, Come to the terms with the fact my relationship was violent.
Step Two, Understand what happened to me was against the law.
Step Three, How to navigate the legal system
And the hardest step…
Step Four, The most time consuming and individualized factor, gathering the courage to go to the police.
I am sharing it took me 27 years to just arrive at Step Three, and now that a few more years have passed, I have crept towards Step Four.
Knowing what I know today, I can't imagine getting to this final step, established the strength to file charges, to be told "Sorry your one to three years has passed and the law cannot protect you." The damage, scars, and trauma that I had endured, to be met with legal denial, would traumatize me.
I am here in Sacramento, because if I had the resources, if there were a longer statute of limitations, I would have filed charges. Me doing that could have prevented the abuse of other women and girls.
This is another step, "Step Five," and that is the step that puts a hold on Domestic Violence, and I hope all the legislators here in Sacramento, take that step with me voting Yes to support SB 273.
We must ensure the safety of victims and allow them to seek justice with enough time to heal from their trauma. Domestic violence is a horrible crime that afflicts a heavy toll on its victims.
As I address you here today, I can't help but recall my own experience, my own trauma, as I too am a victim of domestic violence.
When it comes to domestic violence, the statistics are grim. In America, an average of 50 women are shot to death by their intimate partners every month, and many more are injured. According to the American Psychology Association, more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
In America, an average of 50 women are shot to death by their intimate partners every month, and many more are injured.
Women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk of intimate partner violence. It also affects marginalized people of color at greater numbers; domestic violence also affects children.
Back in 2017, in the San Gabriel Valley, a woman named Anna Stavas, a constituent of mine, lost her five-year-old son who we now refer to lovingly as 'Peeky.' Peeky was murdered by Anna's ex-husband, despite Anna's efforts to gain sole custody due to the allegations of domestic violence. When he couldn't hurt her, he turned to her son.
Data shows multiple reasons why survivors of abuse may not come forward within the statute of limitations, including their age at the time of the abuse, ongoing trauma, threats from the perpetrator or lack of evidence.
As I shared earlier, this issue is very personal to me. When my story was publicized in the media, hundreds of women came forward to tell me about their trauma. One woman shared her story in particular about an 18-year abuse that she had to endure. And even after her relationship ended, she never had the courage to tell anyone.
Let's not make the statute of limitation one more hurdle that an already broke still traumatized victim still has to jump. This is why SB 273—The Phoenix Act—is a very critical piece of legislation. But when they do find the courage to seek justice, we must allow them the opportunity for the future safety of others.