Feedback | Reactions

Join our movement to end sexual exploitation










Main character Virginia Isaias Sands of Silence at Yale

“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 and member of the Board of Directors of the International Documentary Association.

“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, California Lutheran 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

“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


Chelo Sands of Silence Hiroshima CIty University

“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 Yale graduate

“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

“I feel blessed to see your incredibly moving “life-changing” documentary film.
“This amazing film will heal and change lives. “Sands of Silence” is a tremendous contribution to humanity. It’s a must see film! It needs to be seen by everyone globally!”
May Liang, artist, Bay Area


Chelo Virginia Sands of Silence  Bemidji State UniversityIndian Country Minnesota

“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 an 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

“Your documentary is very moving and deeply impactful. I am the Patron of a charity called Coram Children’s Legal Centre in London which works with trafficked children and similar stories unfortunately abound.”—Paul Bloomfield, The Rosetta Stone

“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.

“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


Chelo Alvarez-­Stehle at prison presentation of sex trafficking film

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

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

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

—Sexual violence inmates, Catalonia Prison, Spain


Chelo speaks at European Parliament

“I join with your expanding audience in expressing deep appreciation for the way in which your film 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


Sands of Silence at New Roads Film Class 2015

FEEDBACK from New Roads, Santa Monica, CA – high school students

“I really enjoyed the film. I liked how the documentary was really just like watching a story unfold. That’s something not many documentaries are able to do. It was an emotional movie that did a great job of shedding light on a topic that needs to be seen.

“I think the topic is very intriguing and a great idea. I love how raw it is, really tells the individual how very real this issue is in our world and how it can really damage someone. I really love the title of the film because it’s something so small that tells one so much about another…where it all began in the grains of sand and the silence that carried on with her for such a long time.”

“The film was very personal and raw. The scenes including her family and childhood, especially where she confronts her former abuser in a letter, was especially intimate and moving. I’m admire Chelo for her ability to become vulnerable with her personal life in order to inspire and improve the lives of countless others, still searching for the courage to come out as a victim.”

“Sands of Silence did not cinematically transcend expectations or break boundaries, but it did break my ignorance to the levels of sexual abuse around the world. While it was hard to connect at some points, for instance, the film jumping from severe sex trafficking cases to her personal traumatic experience, it was still powerful. Virginia is an inspiring woman whose story is, I think, told in the MOST effective way possible.”

“The film was informative, inspiring, heartwarming, heartbreaking, moving, emotional, and welcoming to other survivors of sexual abuse such as myself. The film expressed kindness towards the victims where most people might put blame. I thought it showed a fascinating comparison between two different kinds of abuse cases and the film delved into the stories without putting the acts/victims against one another. It somehow created an inviting atmosphere despite the heavy topics discussed. It was inviting enough to encourage people to share their own personal experiences.

“Chelo Alvarez-Stehle’s Sands of Silence is a moving documentary made with patience and great bravery. Various stories are woven together with elegance and grace, creating a tapestry of painful yet necessary messages. The film reminds us that abuse is abuse, no matter the circumstance.”  —Michelle Bernstein, New Roads High School film teacher


Robert Kovacik NBC presents SoCal Journalims Award to Chelo

«It was an honor to present your deeply moving film at the L.A. Press Club.» —Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times

“Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage is a sensitive and intimate denunciation of a problem that is endemic to most societies in today’s world.  Chelo Álvarez-Stehle patiently gives the protagonists of the documentary the time and space necessary to gather the courage to talk about their traumatic experiences, and so, begin to heal and overcome their stifling feelings of shame. Through this process, the women in the film, including Chelo, her sister Marián, and sex trafficking survivor Virginia Isaías, find their voice and dare to unearth painful unspoken memories with the goal of helping others while helping themselves.”
—Margherita Tortora, Director, Latino and Iberian Film Festival at Yale

“Violence and abuse have a best friend, a trusted accomplice: Silence. After watching Sands of Silence I can hear the waves of courage crashing loudly against the rocks of silence; a sad sound wrapped in sweet possibility of all that can be… thank you Ms. Alvarez-Stehle and fellow brave soldiers.”
Yareli Arizmendi, actress, Like Water for Chocolate

“She-he-all who in spite of fear break the silence are heroes. Chelo Alvarez-Stehle director and subject of Sands of Silence, along with the brave protagonists of this documentary are nothing short of that: heroes.”
Sergio Arau, filmmaker, A Day Without a Mexican

“It is a sincere, heart-felt film that touches you from the first second and holds your attention throughout the film. Seldom is this achieved by any documentary. You are shocked and stunned at the boldness of the attackers and suddenly you realize the depth of the problem that it is worldwide and ongoing. Bravo for bringing this issue out of the darkness and shining a light on it. This film has the power to educate women to realize their vulnerability and take steps to protect themselves and their children. This film will change lives, open conversations and raise the consciousness on many hidden issues.”
— Carole Dean, Founder, From The Heart Productions and Roy W. Dean Grants

“This successful and heart-rending film is an acknowledgement of the coming of age and impact of this director’s purposeful work spanning two decades and several countries in the world.”
— Fundación SGAE