ABOUT THE FILMJoin our movement to end sexual exploitation
“Through the searing stories Chelo Alvarez-Stehle tells in her film, she demonstrates that sexual abuse and sexual trafficking are but points on a continuum. In so doing, she has made an important contribution to the national conversation about sexual assault and rape culture. This film is part of the new movement of independent documentary films that reveal important truths about the terrible secrets we keep as a society and the toll they take on all of us.” — Jack Lerner, UC Irvine law professor, Director of the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic, member of the Board of Directors of the International Documentary Association.- Jack Lerner,
Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage is a personal documentary about a filmmaker who, inspired by the transformation of the sex-trafficking survivors whose lives she is documenting, finds the courage to break the silence about sexual abuse in her own life.
A15-year quest to expose the underworld of sexual exploitation and trafficking from Asia to the Americas leads world-reporter Chelo AlvarezStehle back to the windswept beach where her childhood ended and family secrets began. As Chelo documents the transformation of sex trafficking survivors, she meets Virginia Isaias, a Mexican woman whose life is engulfed in a cycle of sexual exploitation. Escaping with her 6 months old daughter from a sex trafficking ring in Mexico, Virginia crosses the US border in search of freedom. After years of hard work, Virginia begins to rebuild her life and speaks out about her ordeal for the first time in this documentary. Virginia, who barely speaks English, becomes a US citizen and a prominent advocate for other sexual exploitation survivors in the Latino community in Southern California by setting up a non profit. Inspired by Virginia's courage, Chelo is moved to explore her unyielding desire for seeking out these types of stories in what becomes a parallel journey of introspection that shatters the silence her own family and in her own life.
is president and founder of Fundación de Sobrevientes de Tráfico Humano (Human Trafficking Survivors Foundation, a 501(c)3). A survivor of a cycle of sexual violence and trafficking, Virginia has dedicated her life to support survivors of sexual violence in the Latino community of Southern California and beyond. She is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the LULAC 2011 Hispanic Woman of the Year, the AIMS 2013 Hispanic Leadership Award, and has received recognitions for her community service by the U.S. House of Representatives, California Senator Lou Correa (Women Making a Difference,) and California Senator Ricardo Lara (Breaking the Chains of Slavery.)
Virginia (Lala) Isaias Barajas
Perhaps the only known person who was trafficked as a baby, is today an empowered teenager, and, like her mother, Virginia Isaias, she has started to speak up and is ready to change the world. Lala told her mom, “You told me one person can change the world, and I want to be that person.”
Lala is currently following her passion, attending college and seeking to major in Environmental Law.
Founder of Shakti Samuha Charimaya (Anu) Tamang is recipient of numerous awards, among them, the Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award 2011, by Hillary Clinton, and the National Gorimaya Woman Genius Award. She is founder of Shakti Samuha which has been awarded with the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2013. She was sold to India when she was 16 years to work in a brothel as a sex worker. She spent 22 months as a sex-slave before the Indian government rescued her along with over 200 other Nepali women in 1996. Upon her return to Nepal, Tamang was ostracised by her community. Later in 2000, Tamang and 15 other survivors established Shakti Samuha, an antitrafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal.
SANDS OF SILENCE: Waves of Courage
My commitment to denounce sexual exploitation was sparked in 1997 in remote Western Nepal when as a world reporter working for print publications in Spain I met young girls that had been sold to temples as the Goddesses’ vestals or trafficked to brothels in India. Moved by this experience, I continued to write about sexual exploitation in different corners of the world, from the sexual abuse that most of Australia’s Aboriginal children of the “stolen generation” were subject to after being removed from their families under the country’s assimilation policy, to the mass rape of Nepali women caught in Bhutan’s ethnic cleansing in 1990. In 2002, when one of my print articles on child trafficking in the Himalayas was turned into the documentary film Tin Girls (Niñas de Hojalata) by Canal+ Spain, a film I worked for, I was forever converted to the art of documentary filmmaking.
These experiences led me to make the short documentary Sold in America: A ModernDay Tale of Sex Slavery, denouncing sexual exploitation and trafficking through the stories of three women sold at an early age. The short premiered at the Montreal Human Rights Film Festival and played in the international film festival circuit.
My current feature length documentary Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage is a departure from the journalist approach of Sold in America. The making of Sands of Silence pushed me into a new journey of introspection. As I set to tell the story of our main subject, Virginia, who struggles to break the cycle of sexual exploitation in her family and her life, I saw my own story—in a very small way—in hers. This realization gradually pushed me to reveal in the film my own hidden ghosts. In this film, my story creates a link between the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation, which affect many of those who live marginal lives, and the diffuse but pervasive sexual abuse that our society tacitly condones. One important common theme is that the silence must be broken first within families. The support and understanding gained when families come together then allows women to speak out publicly. By interweaving my story and my family’s with that of Virginia and her family, while stressing the vast differences, this film brings out that essential step. Even though our families come from totally different backgrounds, the same familial dynamic occurred when Virginia or I tried to speak up about abuse. As we’ve seen in preview screenings, this resonates with audiences in an intimate way, inspiring them to find the courage to break their own silence on sexual exploitation and moving them to take action at a societal level.