Los Angeles Press Club Screening with Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times

“SANDS OF SILENCE: Waves of Courage” is

the LA Press Club’s 2017 SoCal Journalism Awards

Feature Documentary Winner

Exclusive screening of

“SANDS OF SILENCE: Waves of Courage”

on April 26

Moderated by Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times

Watch the 34 min. video of the Panel Discussion

“SANDS OF SILENCE: Waves of Courage” is the LA Press Club’s 2017 SoCal Journalism Awards Feature Documentary Winner. Through the transformation of sex-trafficking survivor Virginia Isaias into an inspiring advocate, “Sands of Silence” celebrates the triumph of the spirit with a call to action to break the chains of sexual violence worldwide.

“In a searing exploration of the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women worldwide, journalist Chelo Alvarez-Stehle also documents her own relatives’ sexual abuse, as well as her own, as they work through their efforts at coping and healing. A moving, poignant documentary of women learning to deal with the physiological and psychological stresses of abuse.” – LAPC 2017 SoCal Journalism Awards Judge.


Movement du Nid: Prostitution et Société revue trimestrelle



Les Sables de Silence: Vagues de Courage




Un film documentaire sur la violence et le traffic sexuel

SYNOPSIS ~ Après plus de 15 ans consacrés à dévoiler le monde souterrain de l’exploitation sexuelle et du trafic des êtres humains de l’Asie à l’Amérique, la journaliste et réalisatrice espagnole Chelo Alvarez-Stehle revient sur la plage de son enfance, Zarautz, au Pays Basque, pour nous révéler ses secrets de famille. C’est lors de son travail en compagnie des survivantes du trafic sexuel qu’elle fait la connaissance de Virginia Isaias, une jeune mexicaine qui parvient à s’échapper avec sa fille de six mois d’un réseau de prostitution basé à Chiapas et traverse la frontière américaine. Il lui faudra dix ans de dur labeur pour reconstruire sa vie et devenir une ambassadrice contre l’exploitation sexuelle. Inspirée par Virginia, Chelo décide de creuser dans les profondeurs de son sujet de prédilection, la violence sexuelle. Ainsi naît un voyage introspectif qui conduit la réalisatrice à revenir en Espagne brisant un long et douloureux silence personnel et familial sur les violences sexuelles.  

— 86 min. (USA/Espagne, 2016) (Anglais, espagnol, nepali – Sous-titré en français)

Sables de Silence Trailer French


“A travers des histoires brûlantes que Chelo Alvarez-Stehle raconte dans son film, elle démontre que les abus et le trafic sexuels sont seulement des exemples dans un continuum. Elle a apporté une importante contribution à la discussion globale sur les attaques sexuelles et la culture du viol. Ce film fait partie du nouveau mouvement des documentaires indépendants qui révèlent d’importantes vérités concernant de terribles secrets que nous gardons en tant que société et le bilan qu’il engendre sur chacun de nous.”    — Prof. Jack Lerner, École de droit University of California, Irvine et membre du Bureau des Directeurs de l’Association de Documentaire internationale.  

“Dans ce documentaire qu’elle a mis 15 ans à réaliser, la cinéaste et journaliste espagnole brise le silence autour du trafic sexuel à l’échelle mondiale, mais également autour des abus subis dans sa propre famille. Un silence qui ne profite qu’aux prédateurs et aux trafiquants.” Lire l’article intégral de «Prostitution et société» magazine ici.

 “Sands of Silence démontre que le traumatisme n’est pas simplement la situation critique de femmes dans des pays lointains. Il peut exister près de chez nous et ne peut être combattu que par de la transparence et de la communication. Les récits contenus dans le documentaire font de ce film une source d’aide pour des individus et des groupes abordant les cas d’abus et de trafic sexuels.” Lire l’interview intégral d’Agnès Films en anglais ici. 


— NATIONS UNIES – New York – High Level Political Forum, 2017

— PARLEMENT EUROPÉEN – Intl. Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 2017

— Universités au tour du monde: Oxford, Barcelona, Madrid, Yale, NYU, UCLA, Brisbane, Hiroshima                                                                

— Prisons de l’Espagne à la Californie


Universities – Feedback

FEEDBACK from Students and Faculty

“I’ve had three sexual assaults and I didn’t know that it was an assault because I wasn’t “raped.” I compared my stories to others and thought that it wasn’t that bad, I had no right to be upset. Also, because there was no gun to my head or a knife at my throat I thought I let it happen, that it was my fault. I beat myself up for not pushing the guy away. I just froze and I interpreted that as I gave the guy permission.  This is why I feel the most important part of Sands of Silence is Virginia validating that your own experience is indeed significant, that it doesn’t not matter exactly what happened physically, there is a psychological impact of violation.”

A 25 year-old graduate after a screening at Yale University

“Sands of Silence is a deeply moving work that will leave no one untouched by its message to put an end to sexual violence. Its secret lies in the self-reflexivity that characterizes the approach of the filmmaker as well as the structure of the film. Chelo skilfully interweaves her own inner journey towards acknowledging the trauma that she herself endured as a result of sexual abuse with the stories of victimized women from around the world. She thereby draws us into the abysses of sexual violence and human trafficking as well as into complex and often painful processes of healing.       The diverse experiences documented by the film also bring home the truth that sexual violence occurs not only in milieus associated with deprivation and crime but right in our own seemingly protected homes and communities.Importantly, Chelo’s non-judgmental stance creates a space for daring questions and open conversations, in the film and beyond. Our discussion after the screening at Hiroshima City University encompassed the situations of victims as well as perpetrators; cycles of violence and abuse and how to stop them; silences in families and communities and how to break them; and, notably, the fact that wartime sexual violence committed in the past may continue to haunt the nation of the perpetrators in the present. I have seldom seen our students so attentive and wholeheartedly involved.” 

Ulrike Woehr, Gender Studies Professor, Hiroshima City University, Japan

“Please help me. I was sexually abused by my physical therapist. He convinced me he had to touch a point in my vagina to cure my shoulder problem. I told my mother and she went to confront him but he denied anything of that sort. I want to report him but I don’t dare…”

An 18 year-old Journalism freshman

“Thank you for screening The Sands of Silence for my class on psychological trauma. It was a powerful and impactful experience. As several of the students pointed out, it made the topic of psychological trauma, which we have spent the last 6 months studying from a theoretical and clinical viewpoint, come alive. The film portrayed a chilling picture of trafficking on women and child victims. But it also showed how common sexual abuse is, and how it can take a seemingly subtle form, yet still have long term effects on a person’s view towards relationships, themselves and their role in the world. This is a rampant problem internationally, and your film helps to bring awareness to this problem. I know that the experience of seeing the film will remain vivid for my students as they embark on their careers as trauma therapists.” 

Ellyn Goldstein, MS, LMFT, Adjunct Faculty, Psychological Trauma, California Lutheran University

“Sands of Silence: Waves of courage takes us into an often invisible secret world where women are enslaved and sexually trafficked. A perilous world which can often seem far away and beyond relief. However, the director Chelo Alvarez-Stehle shows us that human sex trafficking is but one step away from sexual and domestic abuse that infiltrates all areas of society. This film compels us to confront the secrets, venues and patterns that make sexual violence possible. While this film is challenging, it is also filled with hope. That survivors of any level of sexual abuse deserve a voice and a chance to heal and no matter what part of society we inhabit we can be a part of the solution. And indeed the human spirit is triumphant.”

Cynthia V. Duarte Ph.D., Director, Center for the Equality and Justice, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology, California Lutheran University


Feedback from Legislators

“I am shocked, affected, with your absolutely crucial work. If we, politicians, don’t break our own silence, how can we expect that a regular person, a shop keeper, breaks hers? That is why your work is so important for all of us. You give us all a chance to be brave as you are.” 

MEP Zita Gurmai, President of PEP Women, at the European Parliament on the occasion of the Intl. Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

MEP Zita Gurmai at Sands of Silence screening at the European Parliament
MEP Zita Gurmai speaking at the Sands of Silence screening at the European Parliament

“I join with your expanding audience in expressing deep appreciation for the way in which your film Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage is generating a broader and deeper conversation about sexual assault, violence, sex trafficking, and the long arm of hurt caused by disrespecting sexual boundaries of our youth. Because of work like yours, Minnesota now has a sex trafficking law that criminalizes the manipulation of vulnerable people’s sexuality for profit. The whole of society needs to understand that tolerating more subtle sexual boundary violations is linked to the horrific violence perpetrated on Virginia and too many others.” 

Jana Austad, Minnesota Ninth Judicial District Court Judge

“I commend Chelo for her fabulous work on sexual violence and trafficking with her documentary film Sands of Sands of Silence (Arenas de Silencio) and for representing Spain in such a valuable way in this obscure area of humanity.”

Román Oyarzun Marchesi, Spain’s Ambassador to the United Nations


Feedback from Change Agents

“SANDS of SILENCE offers a poignant look into the experiences of several women who survived acts of sexual violence. The film does an incredible job addressing the full spectrum of sexual violence, ranging from child sexual abuse to human trafficking. While many documentaries have illuminated this topic for audiences around the world, SANDS of SILENCE offers an extremely personal look into the myriad challenges and successes a victim experiences. Whether it’s the validation or invalidation that can come from comparing their stories to others, to facing pressures from family members and loved ones, to forgiving one’s perpetrator, this film captures the complexity of a survivor’s healing journey in a profound way. As a victim’s advocate and a trainer, I can see countless potential uses for this film with a variety of audiences as we work together to engage people around the world in a meaningful dialogue on how to  end the massive public health crisis that is sexual violence.”

—Abbey Hanley, Training Manager, Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, Cleveland, OH


«Emotional sexual abuse is sometimes more insidious because it is not as easily recognizable as rape, torture, and/or trafficking and the survivor often feels that she does not have the same “right” to feel sad, depressed or anxious and to grieve her loss and pain as do the survivors of rape, torture or trafficking.»

—Laure Weber, Psy., D.


«Such a powerful film…full of honesty that slices at the heart and such strength in survival that hope prevails. One cannot sit through this film and not stand in greater courage to see this pain end. Chelo Alvarez-Stehle, Virginia and Anu….Thank you for this gift.»

—Patrick Erlandson – Long Beach, CA, Human Trafficking Task Force



«Your documentary is very moving and deeply impactful. Unfortunately, these stories unfortunately abound.» 

Paul Bloomfield, Patron of Coram Children’s Legal Centre, London

“A powerful look into the difficult realities surrounding sexual abuse and trafficking, delivered through stories that are painful but oh so compelling. Well done, Chelo Alvarez-Stehle, for helping us dive deeper into a subject we must bring to light—the sexual exploitation of our most vulnerable members of society.”

—Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting with Presence

“I was incredibly impressed with how the film wove the stories together for people to connect with it at any level. I see similar “dismissing” of trauma from people who compare their experiences with over-the-top dramatic horror stories. Your film does a great job of explaining how our experiences shape us and need to be acknowledged, not dismissed or minimized.” 

—Gail Soffer, Founder, Mindful Warrior Project



Feedback from inmates

“I was deeply impacted by every case in the documentary, regardless the degree of violence.

I identify with Chelo’s sister, with what she went through, and how you fell confused and often keep quiet because who did it was a member of your family, or because you are not able to define what is happening to you.”

Female inmate, Barcelona prison, Spain

“Seeing your film and meeting you has made me promise myself I’ll never do it again.”

Male sexual violence offender, Catalonia prison, Spain

“I never felt so much empathy with the victims.”

Male sexual violence offender, Catalonia prison, Spain

“This film is not just for women, but for men. For men like us, who are here.”

Male sexual violence offender, Catalonia prison, Spain


At Orange County Juvenile Hall outside Los Angeles, California, we presented the film to a small group of young inmates. There were six young men and eight young women. At the debate that ensued, all the girls declared in one way or the other they had been abused. All of the boys said they found the film very much needed. One of them said, “Your film made me question my religion.” My response was, what we need to question are the abusive priests, the cover-ups by the religious leaders, including the pope. 

One young man, who was very reluctant to participate, had an interesting comment: “I watch tons of movies all the time, and I always, always identify with the bad guy. Then I start making excuses for him, and by the end of the film I end up saying, “It wasn’t that bad after all.” We later found out that three of the boys had committed sexual offenses. 

Comments by the young inmates:

“I saw myself in the film””It made me more aware.”

“I could relate – like REALLY relate.”

“I held my breath.”

“I got choked up.”

“I can see this through other peoples’ eyes.”

“It made me want to help you.”

“It made me question my religion!”

“It took heart to speak the truth.”

“They have guts to speak up.”