Heart-wrenching trip to EL PASO, TX and CIUDAD JUAREZ, MX

A new app and the infatigable work of advocates like Verónica Corchado in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico,  is providing a safety network to the young girls at risk of being raped, kidnapped, trafficked and disappeared everyday while commuting for work or study through what’s been called the **most dangerous corridor in the world.**

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When Liz Chávez of WISE LATINA INTERNATIONAL invited us to present Sands of Silence in El Paso, TX. I tried to obtain permission to visit the detention camps as journalist to no avail. Instead, we were able to take the temperature of a growing anti-immigrant wave that has become a tsunami as of this writing. We were able to visit a sex-trafficking shelter outside of El Paso and were denied entry at an immigrant shelter for fear we too may want to cause harm to the many families seeking asylum.

Sands of Silence Executive Producer Deirdre Roney and I were part of the panel that followed the screening, moderated by Lucía Dura, University of Texas at El Paso professor, included Laura Moreno of **Department of Homeland Security,** who was challenged to answer members of the public questions on the widespread sexual abuse that separated children in custody are experiencing.

We did travel to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico where we met the amazing advocate Verónica Corchado. Veronica has been an organizer and social activist for human rights in Ciudad Juárez, for more than 25 years. In the course of her work, she has been victim to five assaults. Committed to social change in her community, she has developed several platforms and strategies for the elimination of violence against women, including femicides. Among them an app to provide safety to young girls living in Juarez and crossing the border everyday to go to school or work in El Paso.

Veronica is currently **Director of the Municipal Institute of Women in Ciudad Juarez** and founder of the non-profit organization Colectiva Arte Comunidad, an umbrella organization for various projects empowering women through arts and culture. She is co-founder of the Cultural Community La Promesa.

Deirdre and I traveled to a hamlet in rural Michoacán state where we visited the maximum-security shelter for women and children SIN VIOLENCIA.

We are very happy that our visit allowed the shelter to receive a grant from DOLLIES MAKING A DIFFERENCE, a non-profit based in California, after hearing heart-wrenching stories of violence and abuse.

READ HERE Deirdre Roney’s recount of our visit to the maximum-security shelter.

 

On top of the safety app, there are 11 spread out through the most dangerous part of Ciudad Juarez, that are cell phone charging stations with 24 Hrs PANICK BUTTONS to alert police and the Municipal Institute for Women.

In the pictures, Chelo, Verónica Corchado and Deirdre Roney. And in the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez also with Elena Garza of Wise Latina International.

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

Lawmakers

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

Non-Profits

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

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Prisons

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

ORANGE COUNTY JUVENILE HALL – CALIFORNIA

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.”

 

Communities / Libraries

Audience Feedback

«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


 

«Your film touches a very painful subject, but in essence, your film is about love.»

Young businessman, NuHive screening, Shanghai


«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

«I loved when you said that you consider yourself a humanist first, then a feminist.»

Hiromi, female freshman student, Hiroshima City University, Japan


 

«I was moved by Chelo’s invaluable work because I can feel how hard must have been for her to speak up and reveal everything she and her family went through.
This topic the film addresses needs to be share with every woman and man.»

Audience member, Cervantes Institute, Tokyo