Chelo Alvarez-Stehle: Breaking the silence on sexual violence
BY BARBARA ANN O’LEARY ON
Recently #DirectedbyWomen had a chance to delve into conversation with reporter and documentary filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle about her moving film Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage and the impact it is having on communities around the world. She also shared the surprising direction her work is leading her to explore next. The topic of sexual abuse and trafficking is challenging. It can feel easier to simply look away, but please take time to receive what Chelo has shared and look for the chance to experience her work. Info about upcoming screenings can be found at the end of the post.
DBW: Your documentary Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage takes on such a powerful subject. It’s multifaceted in its approach, dealing with the nexus of sexual abuse and sexual trafficking. And it takes us deep into the complexities of how these forms of abuse impact not only individuals but families as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how the film is resonating with film audiences and the impact it is having.
CA-S: We’ve felt overwhelmed by the cathartic experiences audiences are having. At every screening people of all ages are going deep into their experiences, bringing past or recent memories, identifying them as abuse, calling them by their name, breaking the silence, so much so that we enlist volunteer therapists or psychologists to attend and be ready at the Q&As with their expertise and resources.
That is why we say that Sands of Silence is “the film that inspires you to break the silence on sexual violence.” Many of those people speak up for the first time.
But after touring Europe and the US with the documentary we know that it also goes beyond that. A college freshman at a university in Spain insisted on talking to me after the screening. She had gone to a physical therapist for a shoulder problem. He convinced her, by showing her information on Google, that he needed to touch a point in her vagina in order to cure her. He ended up inserting a vibrator in her vagina. “Finally something clicked for me and I left. My mother did not believe me, and when she finally did, she went to confront him, but he denied everything. Please help me. Now I have nightmares. I don’t even let my dad approach me. And I want to report him but I don’t know how.” I was able to refer her to an association of women lawyers that provides legal pro bono services to victims.
Often it is those closer to us that don’t believe us.