By Chelo Alvarez-Stehle
Feeling grateful when you have plenty is easy. Feeling grateful when you’ve been robbed of the most fundamental possessions in your life: your freedom, your dignity, your sense of being, seems like an impossible task. But not for Virginia Isaias, a survivor of sex trafficking whose journey is part of the documentary film Sands of Silence: Journey into Trafficking, which I am producing/directing and which we hope to release in 2015.
After enduring years of violence at the hands of the husband she was forced to marry at 16, Virginia Isaias left her home in Southern California for her hometown in Mexico. There, Virginia started a business selling clothes to ranchos. One early morning, as Virginia was breast-feeding her baby at a market, she felt a blow in her back. When she woke up she found herself in a shack hundreds of miles away in the midst of the Chiapas jungle. The traffickers told her that her baby had been sold, and using excruciating torture methods, forced her into prostitution.
Virginia eventually escaped and returned to the U.S. . Starting from zero, she cleaned houses and worked for over ten years at a parachute factory, scrimping and saving to buy a humble house. Virginia became a U.S. citizen. In 2010 she created Human Trafficking Survivors Foundation, a501(c)3 in Anaheim, CA. She invested her meager savings in her foundation, and risked losing her house in the endeavor. With no more resources than her passion, Virginia became a walking hotline. When she was asked to help rescue a victim of domestic violence who had been burned and disfigured with acid and was hanging to life by a thread, Virginia did not hesitate to risk her life and travel far into Mexico. The mothers of the three recently disappeared young girls in Anaheim, reached out to Virginia’s foundation when they felt authorities were not making a huge effort in rescuing girls that allegedly had links to prostitution. Phone calls regarding cases of labor trafficking, sexual trafficking, domestic violence or child abuse, are the norm in Virginia’s day to day. This is why Virginia organizes educational outreach events and has a following of hundreds of Latino women throughout Southern California, many of whom do not speak English and would never think of raising their issues with the police. Virginia is thankful for being alive and everyday she strives to share her gratitude with others in need.
Virginia was nominated to the 100 Make a Difference project, along with celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Shriver to Prince Edward and Eva Longoria. www.100makingadifference.com
Please help Virginia in her efforts by donating to Human Trafficking Survivors Foundation (Fundación de Sobrevivientes de TráficoHumano), a 501(c)3: www.fsth.org (click on “Donaciones”)
Please help finish this independent and labor of love documentary through a tax-deductible donation: www.sandsofsilence.org
Chelo Alvarez-Stehle is a journalist and documentary filmmaker originally based in Malibu.