EVERYONE KNOWS ANNALYNNE MCCORD as a stunning actress from shows like 90210, Dallas, and Nip/Tuck — but she is the one case in Hollywood where she is truly even more beautiful on the inside. McCord is not only an actress but an activist, speaking out for voices that are silenced. In 2014, she opened up to Cosmopolitan about her own sexual assault, and has been visiting Cambodia for years to help victims of sex trafficking, a cause close to her heart. Now, McCord is president of her own foundation, together1heart, whose mission is to end modern-day slavery and sex trafficking of women and children. She spoke with Lady Clever about the global problem of sex trafficking, how helping others helped save herself, and how together1heart helps empower the women of Southeast Asia for a brighter future.
How did you get involved with the fight to end modern-day slavery?
I initially got involved with the fight to end slavery and human trafficking because I wasn’t happy in my career choice and I needed to do something that meant something. Little did I know it was the personal connection that I carried deeply hidden which really connected me to the issue. I was sexually assaulted when I was 18 years old and this issue, sex trafficking, is very close to my heart.
What’s the significance of your foundation’s name, together1heart?
Together1heart is the name that best reflects our girls in Cambodia, survivors around the world, and those whose passion it is to fight this issue. This is the only way we can do it, if we join together as one heart; one movement with one solid stance against slavery as a whole.
Most people don’t realize what a large and global problem sex trafficking is. In fact, most people’s experience is limited to movies like Taken. What do the girls you’re helping experience if they’re not rescued?
Slavery is a global issue, but in […] Third World countries like Cambodia, the treatment of young girls and women is archaic at best. Thousand-year-old customs and traditions which put girls at the bottom of the totem pole and society mean extreme vulnerabilities to all kinds of atrocities, with human trafficking/sex trafficking being at the top of that list.
How did Cambodia become such a hotbed of modern-day slavery and sex trafficking?
Cambodia recently endured a 30-year-long civil war in which mass genocide destroyed the majority of the population. This country has been marred by violence, and yet it holds a beautiful resilience within its spirit. I believe the epicenter of the issue of human trafficking and sex slavery is the nonchalant attitude to violence due to the country’s recent history.
What’s your itinerary while you’re in Cambodia? Does it consist of mainly spending time with the girls?
Now that I’m president, there are a lot more trips, popping over for business. I’m thankful to have built relationships within the government and with members of the Cambodia prime minister’s family, so I entertain them while that there. But what I love more than anything in this world is my time in the center with my beautiful little angels. We dance, we sing (Bong Srey — “older sister” in Cambodian — Anna tries to sing — it’s not great, I won’t lie), we just love on each other, and we discuss our dreams and hopes.
During the holidays I bring Santa’s sleigh from Los Angeles to Cambodia. I always love to bring a group and we have a big celebration with the girls for Christmas with presents and school supplies. Claude Hildenbrand, our darling board member and Vice President of Solyna Foundation, our Swiss fiscal sponsor, and I also love to rent a massive tour bus, pack up all our beautiful babies and drive them a few hours south to the seaside. It’s a wonderful holiday tradition and it brings so much joy to see how much they love the ocean, even though Claude has to play swim instructor as most of the girls haven’t learned to swim.
You’ve been very candid in the media about your experience as a sexual assault survivor. What was the public response like after sharing your story?
I’ve never had a drink in my life, but suddenly I was being slammed on blogs for probably being drunk and having deserved it or been asking for it. Because little girls grow up dreaming of being raped one day! It’s kind of incredible the assertions little keyboard warriors will make online. But then the emails began pouring in by the hundreds, then thousands. I have so many sisters and brothers around the world. We’ve been bonded through tragedy but, as I have told each and every one of them, UNITED WE HEAL.
I will say some of the most touching messages are the ones I’m receiving now. One reads:
You probably don’t remember me but I sent you an email about a year ago about my story of my sexual assault and I just wanted to email you to say how you truly have changed my life for the better..
Every morning when I wake up I have read your reply to my email, which has given me so much strength to get up and do beautiful things with my day, instead of lying in bed going over and over the night of the assault. Your kindness and warmth is exceptional and I feel so honored to have been blessed with your advice and honestly – I know many people must say this to you but it’s truly phenomenal how much you’ve helped me.
I couldn’t have imagined myself in the place I am 1 year on. I have started university and am in my element here, loving everyday so much. My relationships have gone from strength to strength and I no longer see men as a threat but as incredible people who fill me with so much love. To those I feel most comfortable I have told them my story and the support system I have received is overwhelming, girls really are the best friends in the whole world.
As you said in your previous email that I will come to the “calm after the storm” I truly believe that I have reached such point and am incredibly excited for my life ahead.
Thank you for everything you have done for me, your words are blessed and you will forever be an extremely important person in my life – I can never thank you enough. I hope your life is nothing but a dream and should our paths ever cross I would love to give you the biggest hug ever!!
All my love, Olivia”
This is how I have been able to heal. This is why we suffer: to see the gift of unity it can bring when we find our healing with another.
You’ve said before that the girls you were trying to save actually saved you. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from working with them?
Forgive yourself. That’s it. Everything else you must learn follows that naturally. People don’t realize that they exist in a state of unforgiveness of self. Walking around town beating themselves up for that run-in with the boss early, being late, being stupid, being whatever that Slave Master of the Mind condemns us of. Forgiveness of self is a moment-to-moment practice. I literally shrug my shoulders now. I think: “Maybe I’ll do better next time. Maybe not. We’ll see.” I’m my own best friend finally, thanks to learning to forgive myself from Somaly and my girls.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for together1heart?
Our short-term goals include wanting to reopen two of our centers that were closed down due to lack of funding. Outreach and prevention are a huge part of our work, and the hope is to educate people and cultures as a whole to treat their children better. As Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Long-term, I want to see a widespread movement of people breaking the chains of negative, abusive, controlling, violent belief systems from within their homes, to the streets on which they live, to the world at large.
For people who can’t be involved on a daily basis, how can they help these girls?
Spread the word! And support us at our website.
You heard the woman, spread the word and support together1heart!
Visit www.together1heart.org to learn more and donate. Stay up-to-date with the organization on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And keep up with AnnaLynne for info on her acting and personal projects on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch I Choose, a short film McCord wrote and directed about the issue of sex-trafficking, here.