AnnaLynne McCord attended The Rape Foundation Annual Brunch on Sunday and discussed with PEOPLE her experience with sexual assault

By Brianne Tracy and Stephanie Petit
Updated September 26, 2016 09:15 AM
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Since opening up about her own sexual assault at 18 years old a couple years ago, AnnaLynne McCord has connected with thousands victims about their own experiences – but she’s not done yet.

While attending The Rape Foundation Annual Brunch in Beverly Hills on Sunday, the actress told PEOPLE about how one action can change a person’s life forever.

“Someone makes one decision one night, and it changes the rest of your life. You don’t forget,” she says.

McCord, 29, admits that she dealt with lack self-worth and self-esteem issues in the wake of her assault.

“I often say, ‘I didn’t sell my body for money but I did sell it to feel some feeling of love,'” McCord reveals. “Because that’s what we need. We’re all the same, we want to be loved.”

What she really needed was support – and that’s what she’s passionate about doing for others.

Since sharing her story in Cosmopolitan in 2014, she’s received “thousands” of emails and messages on social media – and she has responded to each and every one of them.

“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 shares. “And the ‘it’s okay’ part is the most crucial part.”

The Night Shift actress is on a mission on stop slut-shaming and promote consensual sex. To do so, she wrote and directed a short film called I Choose about a man and woman having a sexual relationship juxtaposed with a young girl being sold into slavery.

“My point is, if someone is having amazing, beautiful Fifty Shades of Grey sex, shut up! They have that right when it’s consensual,” McCord explains. “When you don’t have a choice, I have a problem.”

After years of coming to terms with her rape, McCord is 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,” she says. “I’m just very thankful that The Rape Foundation creates 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.”