This documentary is giving people the courage to speak out about sexual violence

When the lights come on after a typical screening of Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage, what happens next is inspiring: Survivors of sexual violence start speaking out — many of them for the first time in their lives. Which is exactly what Chelo Alvarez-Stehle was hoping for when she made this film.

Almost eight years ago, Chelo set out to make a documentary that would give women the courage to stand together and share stories about sexual exploitation and violence. That film is now finished. In preview screenings, audience members have been so consistently moved to share their own stories that professional counselors are now present whenever the film is screened.

The message of the film is simple: It’s time that we end the shame that surrounds survivors of sexual violence. It’s time for all of us to come out of the shadows.


One story the film tracks, is the story of a woman named Virginia and her daughter Lala. After years of being subjected to sexual violence by family and clergy members, Virginia was kidnapped into a Mexican trafficking ring while breastfeeding Lala, her six-month-old baby. Escaping the traffickers with baby Lala in her arms, Virginia ultimately crossed the U.S. border in search of freedom. She then spent a decade rebuilding her life, and becoming a committed advocate against gender exploitation. Virginia then broke the cycle of abuse her life had been engulfed in by confronting her own mother about forcing her to keep silent about the abuse in the family.

At 11, Lala was abused by a pedophile. After a lifetime of seeing her mother speak out about her own abuse, Lala did not keep quiet. Thanks to Lala’s prompt action, they are able to take the offender to jail. We meet Lala six years later, empowered and transformed. Lala, perhaps the only known trafficked baby, breaks her silence about the violence that engulfed her childhood for the first time in this film.