The 29-year-old 90210 actress gave a harrowing interview to the BBC on Wednesday in honor of International Women’s Day, where she spoke again about her assault and what she’s learned now that could help other survivors.
Recounting the incident, McCord noted how her rape happened in a different way than those often described by society.
“I was never raped in these scenarios they tell you you’re going to get raped in,” she said. “I was in my own home. Let a friend come stay at my place because [he] needed to crash. And I woke up to find my Southern hospitality, if you want to call it that, was being greatly taken advantage of. I woke up, and he was inside me — and my whole body shut down.”
At the time, McCord was just 18-years-old and living in Los Angeles where she was pursuing a career as an actress. Though she had grown up the pastor’s daughter in a devoutly Christian household, she had also experienced strict discipline from her parents as a child.
Leaving home at 15, she admits to going “a little crazy-wild in New York, dancing on tables wearing little miniskirts.”
Those things combined made her feel responsible for her own rape — though she admits now “how I dress does not mean yes.”
“For 10 years I thought it was my fault,” she said. “I didn’t fight back. I found out recently through my studies of neuroscience that my body completely shut everything down and wouldn’t let me fight back because I thought that was the only way to cope with abuse.”
After the incident happened, McCord said she completely shut down.
“I wasn’t the one seeking any kind of solace or consolation from what happened — I pretended like it didn’t occur and went on with my life,” she explained. “I thought I was fine and continued ‘living,’ if you want to call that living.”
“I became very, very dark,” she added. “Suicidal. Self-harming – cutting up my arms.”
But she also found herself drawn to charity work, especially with survivors of the Cambodian sex trade.
“I fight human trafficking, working with survivors of consistent rape every day — all day,” she said. “We’re working to get them back to some sort of normalcy.”
When she was asked by writers on 90210 if she was comfortable playing a storyline in which her character Naomi was raped by a teacher, McCord jumped at the chance thinking of her charity work — but not realizing her own connection to the material.
“The producers came down and asked, ‘Would you want to portray this — it’s very dark.’ It was the story of my character being raped. And I was like, ‘Yes, this is such an important topic,’ ” she said. “It was something I was really excited to tackle.”
“I did months and months of episodes,” McCord continued. “I was in to a second season of the storyline when I had a moment on set and what happened to me all came back in a flash.”
Since then, she hasn’t looked back — first revealing her story in a May 2014 Cosmopolitan piece and since taking her message to college campuses with her short film, I Choose.
“The support has been amazing,” she previously told PEOPLE. “You think in your head that the opposite is going to happen. You think that you’ll be shamed and there will be even more degradation, humiliation. And the opposite has been apparent. But what’s even more important than that to me has been the outreach from survivors who are telling me their stories.”
She said thousands victims have reach outed to her about their own experiences — emails that she personally takes the time to answer.
“Eighty percent of them have told me for the very first time – a complete stranger, someone they don’t even know, a random actress in Los Angeles – because I said, ‘Hey, I was raped too and it’s okay,’ ” McCord shared. “And the ‘it’s okay’ part is the most crucial part.”
“It’s okay” is something McCord had to tell herself a lot in the wake of her revelation. But after years of dealing with self-worth and self-esteem issues, she said she’s finally at a place where she is happy with herself — and hopes others who were victims of sexual assault also get on the long road to recovery.
“I’m thankful to report that I love myself now, I think she’s wonderful. But it’s taken me a long time,” McCord said. “I’m just very thankful that The Rape Foundation create an opportunity for survivors like myself to experience love – experience what I didn’t have in silence for nine years before finally coming out about it.”