VIRGINIA ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): ANNOUNCER: A filmmaker spends years reporting on sexual violence and trafficking.
ISA ÍAS: KARMEN DEHESA (speaking Spanish): ANNOUNCER: Then, she faces the hidden sexual abuse in her family's past and her own.
"Sands of Silence," on Doc World.
♪ CHELO ALVAREZ-STEHLE: We used to spend our summers in the Basque Country.
♪ And it was there where, free from the walls of the Catholic school where we studied, we would discover puberty.
The parties, the first date, the first stolen kiss.
But my memory's mirror is still clouded by a dark shadow.
I was the oldest of seven.
We were always under our parents' watchful eyes, but one afternoon, some of us sneaked away to the beach without them noticing it.
After a while, a tall man approached us.
He soon started to play with my sister.
Suddenly, he took her by the hand and led her away.
They went all the way to the cabanas.
He pulled her into one of them and dropped the canvas.
It must have gotten late, because there were not many people left at the beach.
But I kept watching the cabana for a long time.
Finally, the man came out of the cabana, holding my sister by the hand.
Her silence was deafening.
The mystery of that encounter was etched forever inside of me.
Years later, I came to understand that my sister Marián's incident was the seed behind my drive to fight sexual exploitation.
(birds chirping) You'll be surprised to receive this letter after more than two decades since we last met at my mother's passing.
You were very close to our family, but you never knew the journey I embarked on.
PILOT: This is Everest.
Right side is Lhotse.
My world travels as a journalist started in the late '90s, always focused on women's rights issues, in particular, the sexual exploitation of women and children.
In 2002, I worked on a documentary called Tin Girls, on child trafficking from Nepal to India.
♪ (indistinct chatter) MAN (speaking Spanish): ♪ (indistinct chatter) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Show me the baby?
Baby, baby... (speaks world language) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I will never forget a young woman from Nepal telling me how she had been trafficked into the brothel as she rocked her newborn.
Especially when I had just learned that the clients don't hesitate to use the brothel's children for their pleasure.
♪ (screaming) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: We just watch a theater group of children performing how trafficking occurs in the villages.
Trafficking is, is really a huge business in this country, because it is a very poor country, so people benefit from that, unfortunately.
Ten years later, in the Americas, I met Virginia Isaías.
Her life had been engulfed in a cycle of sexual exploitation.
ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): ♪ ♪ (voice breaking): ♪ (crying): ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Virginia's harrowing story and others I discovered in my world reporting turned my travels into a journey of soul-searching.
♪ My sister agreed to let me insert my memory of her childhood episode in the documentary, as long as I wouldn't include her as a grown-up in the film.
MARI ÁN (speaking Spanish): ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (speaking Spanish): MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: This discussion brought back the feeling of anxiety I felt as a child when Marián was abducted at the beach.
I could not fathom Virginia's despair at having her daughter sold.
ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): (crying): ♪ (trunk closes, car engine starts) (car drives off) (tearfully): ♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Virginia's improbable story of survival inspired me to bring up the cabana incident in my own family.
The pretext was to show them the documentary's trailer.
The incident had never been discussed at home.
My mother knew, but she kept it to herself.
My sister Marián agreed to let me film the gathering, but did not want her face on camera.
(Spanish audio from documentary playing) MARI ÁN (speaking Spanish): ♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I could feel Marián's uneasiness, and I thought I had gone too far.
(applause) MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: But by the end of the screening, Marián seemed a bit more accepting of my telling her story.
ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): MARI ÁN: (child babbling) MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: DOMINGO: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: CRISTINA: LUIS: MANUEL: MIRIAM: LUIS: DOMINGO: MANUEL: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: My father's opposition confronted me deeply.
Especially because I was keeping something from my family.
♪ But most importantly from myself.
ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): ♪ (crying): ♪ (sewing machine clicking) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (speaking Spanish): ISA ÍAS: (calling dog quietly) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: It was amazing to see that Virginia had finally been able to rebuild her life.
(birds chirping) ♪ ISA ÍAS: ♪ SOCIAL WORKER (speaking Spanish): ISA ÍAS: Uh-huh.
♪ ISA ÍAS: ♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Thanks to Lala speaking out, the child molester was sent to jail.
Ten months later, he is about to be released.
JUDGE: Mr. Cañada, the court is going to issue the order that's been requested.
You must stay at least a hundred yards away from the people listed in this order, their home, their jobs or workplaces.
Ms. Isaías, does that conclude everything that you were asking for?
ISA ÍAS: Sí.
JUDGE: All right.
♪ ISA ÍAS (crying): ♪ ♪ (laughter) ANGELA: ISA ÍAS: ANGELA: (voice breaking): ISA ÍAS: (clicking tongue) ANGELA: ISA ÍAS: ANGELA: ISA ÍAS: ANGELA: (Isaías sniffles) ♪ ISA ÍAS: LALA (softly): ISA ÍAS: Mmm?
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (people singing in Spanish) MANUEL: MIRIAM: BEATRIZ: (knock at door) MARI ÁN: Miriam!
(Miriam and Manuel speaking Spanish) MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Marián had sensed we were talking about the incident, and for the first time, she accepted to be on camera.
MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN and MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: Mm-hmm.
MIRIAM: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (speaking Spanish): MIRIAM: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Though I insisted on the need to speak up about Marián's abuse, I knew I wasn't being totally honest.
I was still keeping my own ghosts at bay.
Next day, Miriam, my sister-in-law, invited Marián and I to have breakfast away from the rest of the family.
MIRIAM: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: She had told her mother about the abuse a couple of years ago, but never told her father.
She'd come to realize that this had affected her in a profound way.
She had found it hard to maintain lasting and close relationships.
MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: At this point, I felt the need to step in and question my sister.
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (speaking Spanish): MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: As my sister-in-law struggles to share her painful experiences with us, Marián insists in diminishing the importance of her own abuse.
ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: MARI ÁN: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: MARI ÁN: MIRIAM: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: My sister-in-law acknowledges how we all have a great ability to overcome and adapt to any situation.
However, she points out how big a price we pay for that.
(imitates choking) MIRIAM: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: As my sister-in-law reveals her own pain, Marián finally admits her own distress.
When Miriam confesses that it has taken her years of therapy and deep soul-searching to overcome her abuse, Marián finally agrees to start looking into it.
MIRIAM: (people singing in Spanish) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Singing is how we express emotions in our family.
However, speaking up is not that easy.
(singing, guitar playing) (music fades) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I had to tell my family about you, about the open confessions far from the dark confessional booths, when we sat face to face on your office couch.
I felt confused by your mesmerizing gaze, your extremely attractive personality.
As it turned out, I wasn't the self-confident teenager I aspired to be.
Back then, I could never bring myself to blame you for crossing that line with me, yet I felt your flirty ways were out of place.
Only many years later, as I do my best to prepare my teenage daughter to deal with her own sexuality, I realize that there was something fundamentally inappropriate in your seemingly harmless affection, as when you used to take me for a ride to have a soda and you would press your hand on my thigh as you drove.
I feared the goodbye kisses in your car.
You would give me a slow, sensual kiss, pressing and twisting your lips on mine.
Perhaps you just enjoyed the excitement of testing temptation by getting too close to the forbidden fruit.
But in doing so, you placed the responsibility on me to keep you off-limits.
How'd you expect my parents to feel about what you did to me?
You know my father was a very ethical man.
As an old-school surgeon, he didn't charge those who couldn't afford it.
After his long years as a senator and humanitarian, he received the national social work award by the prince of Spain.
(applause) I'm not sure you know he passed away recently after a long disease.
I wonder what he would have done if he knew I was confronting you.
My mother instilled in us a responsibility to share with those less privilege, and was quite progressive for her time.
This is why I looked up to you, a modern priest who introduced me to the liberation theology, the plight of the poor.
I've woken up with morning anxiety.
I've had wolves growling at me in my dreams.
I'm having symptoms of a trauma victim.
I am blaming myself.
I kept these feelings to myself for decades, and only now am I able to confront them.
It is liberating, but scary.
And I wonder who else had a similar experience with you.
♪ (speaking Spanish) LOLA and ALVAREZ-STEHLE: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: (sighs) LOLA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: LOLA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: LOLA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: LOLA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: LOLA: LUIS: ALBA: LUIS: ALBA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): ♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Why did I continue to trust you?
Why did I let you trespass the boundary of my dignity?
How could I tell you that your affection confused me and paralyzed me?
Your psychological manipulation invaded my space?
Your gaze, your seductive approaches, violated my integrity?
I wanted to protect you, I didn't want to hurt you.
Perhaps I wanted to protect myself?
♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): ALBA: ALVAREZ-STEHLE: ALBA: LUIS: ♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Now I was left with a dilemma.
Should I go see you?
Should I go confront you in person?
(wind chimes) In 2010, I was invited to screen segments of the film in New York with Virginia.
This was the first edition of the Women in the World summit.
TINA BROWN: We got rid of slavery in the 19th century, didn't we?
No, we didn't.
The buying and selling of human beings is now a $32 billion a year global business on a par with drug trafficking and weapons sales.
(applause) CLINTON: Trafficking isn't just a problem of human bondage.
It fuels the epidemic of gender-based violence, here in our country and around the world.
(indistinct chatter, Isaías speaking on video) ♪ (crying) - (speaking Spanish) It's too much, it's just too much.
WOMAN: Yeah, yeah-- you want to stop?
It's too much.
♪ ♪ ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): (crying): ♪ DEHESA (speaking Spanish): (applause) ISA ÍAS: AUDIENCE MEMBER (speaking Spanish): ISA ÍAS: (applause) (speaking Spanish): REPORTER (speaking Spanish): ISA ÍAS: (applause) WOMAN: Virginia Isaías founded Trafficking Survivors Foundation to prevent and to raise awareness of exploitation and human trafficking so it may one day cease to exist.
WOMAN (speaking Spanish): ♪ (camera clicks, flash pops) ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): ISA ÍAS: (Alvarez-Stehle crying softly) (Alvarez-Stehle chuckling) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I spent a year deciding whether to confront you in person or just mail you the letter.
Through Virginia's words, I understood that I had no need to visit you face to face.
♪ ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): (applause) (laughter) (applause) LALA: I grew up with just my mom.
And at first she told me, I felt really bad.
Because, in a way, she's carrying that burden for, like, nine months.
And I don't know what comes to mind when she looks at me.
I know that she loves me, but I know that at some point, she, like, didn't want me-- she was, like, "I can't have this, it's embarrassing."
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: When you look at the story that you guys went through, you know, when you were a baby, I mean, I realized that you're probably the only person that we know of that as a baby was trafficked with her mother.
Even though there's, we know there's survivors, we only know that there's a couple who actually even talk about it.
I don't know whether I should be proud of saying it, or, like, talking for the ones who are hiding, but, I mean, this should just sort of, like, push people to start talking and not be ashamed.
I don't know whether or not I'm the right choice to, like, represent everyone else and their kids, but I'd like to think so.
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: That's a very beautiful statement and very important, you know, because... - (chuckles): Yeah.
- Okay... (wind blowing) (traffic sounds) ISA ÍAS (speaking Spanish): LALA: (laughs) ISA ÍAS: LALA: ISA ÍAS: LALA: ISA ÍAS (crying): ♪ (laughing, sniffle) (all singing in Spanish) (cheering) ♪ MARI ÁN (speaking Spanish): ALVAREZ-STEHLE (speaking Spanish): MARI ÁN: SANGITA: When are you going to open the letter?
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I don't want to open it right away.
I have to be ready for it, you know?
Whoa, he replied soon!
♪ (door opens, footsteps approach) MARK: So what's in the letter?
I'm going to read it in Spanish and then I'll translate it, okay?
(speaking Spanish): (voice trembling) (clapping) ALVAREZ-STEHLE: Really?
(all chuckling) MARK: Yeah, he apologized.
ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I mean, it's amazing.
MARK: Well, how do you feel?
Happy that he doesn't want to put excuses and justifications-- in a way he is saying... "Yes, I did something and I didn't know it impacted you this way."
In a way, he is... MARK: Do you, do you forgive him?
♪ ALVAREZ-STEHLE: I had mixed feelings.
The human rights activist in me wants justice and reparation.
My inner self wants healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Because he's made himself vulnerable to me through his letter.
MARK: I mean, here is a person that, according to you, taken a part of your life and, and ruined it, and you don't, and you don't feel any, I don't know, anger.
SANGITA: Do you want a verbal anger?
(Alvarez-Stehle sighs) MARK: I want an emotion, a feeling.
SANGITA: Well, what do you think her work is?
MARK: Oh, okay.
- Thank you... SANGITA: Where she's expressing all her anger.
She doesn't need to express it in words.
(laughing): This is amazing, we have... MARK: She expresses it towards me in words... ALVAREZ-STEHLE (laughs): No, Mark...
This is your, this is your little... Sangita is right!
She understands it.
My travels around the world have taken me into the hearts of women that have mended their wounds by speaking up.
♪ My journey hasn't concluded.
Is it enough for a transgressor to ask for forgiveness?
Is it enough for a victim to break the silence?
♪ ♪ - I never wanted to be in the film.
I couldn't deal with it.
And I had to go to three years of therapy during the production of the film to really allow me to reconciliate myself.
Yes, I am a victim", and now I'm gonna disclose this and the whole world is gonna know, and he's gonna know.
It's so interesting in the film to see how it's kind of a Pandora's box opening, to one person breaking the silence, inspired the other person that happened in my house, in my family.
It happened with my sister.
Then she inspired me to break my own silence.
Then suddenly a cousin calls me from Spain.
She said "Oh, Chelo this subject has touched me so much because I am also the victim of abuse."
(speaking Spanish): - Yeah, this cascade of episodes of breaking the silence starts occurring.
Because when one person sees that the other person is expressing something so deep, something that has been stigmatized, something that you feel so horrible, that you feel ashamed of, that you would have swear to yourself you're never going to revisit that space or discuss with anyone.
When you see someone breaking the silence, it inspires you.
(speaking Spanish): ♪ (woman singing in Spanish) ♪