Documentary Screening Gives Courage to Sex Abuse Survivors

By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Assistant Managing Editor

On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4, about 20 women gathered in a Riviera home for a private screening of the feature documentary “Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage” by reporter and documentary filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle.

The film centers on the story of sex trafficking survivor Virginia Isaias and her harrowing life story of sexual exploitation in Mexico before her eventual escape to the U.S. with her infant daughter—conceived out of gang rape.

While Alvarez-Stehle was making the documentary on sex trafficking and giving sex abuse victims the courage to speak up, she realized the story was much more personal than she first thought.

Documentary filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle screened her film about sex trafficking at a private residence in the Riviera. Photo courtesy of Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

Documentary filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle screened her film about sex trafficking at a private residence in the Riviera.
Photo courtesy of Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

“I need to start breaking the silence in my own family,” Alvarez-Stehle said she remembered thinking as she embarked on what she calls an inner journey during the filmmaking process.

As a result, the film is about both sex trafficking and the abuse in Alvarez-Stehle’s own life and the lives of her family members.

Her own story of abuse and exploitation as a child growing up in Spain is narrated over home video footage, both from her childhood and of a recent visit to Spain when she confronts her family about the events they had long ago buried.

“Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage,” a project eight years in the making, “transformed from a film on sexual trafficking to a more intimate look at the spectrum of sexual exploitation,” Alvarez-Stehle told the Palisadian-Post at the Palisades screening.

A still from the documentary Sands of Silence. Photo courtesy of Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

A still from the documentary Sands of Silence.
Photo courtesy of Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

The film is designed to give victims of all types of abuse the courage to speak up and is a “tool to get people to overcome their fear- and shame-based silence,” said Deirdre Roney, the film’s executive producer in an introduction before the screening began.

“Since most people don’t speak out, those who do have a really tough time of it,” Roney added. “This film gives survivors the courage to speak about all forms of abuse and exploitation.”

While the film has yet to be seen publicly, professional counselors have been available at all private and fundraising screenings because the film often inspires viewers to speak up on the spot.

“Sexual exploitation is happening under our noses and in our backyards,” Alvarez-Stehle said.

When asked why she decided to make this film, Alvarez-Stehle said, “I’m not doing it because [sex trafficking and exploitation] is a ‘hot topic.’ I’m doing it because we need to do something about it.”

For more information on “Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage,” go to sandsofsilence.org.