Broken Silence

By Pamela Bond

North Texas Daily

April 28, 2006

The three young women who embraced each other on the rooftop of Cool Beans on Wednesday night seemed like normal girls. They smiled and giggled as they spoke to each other. It’s hard to imagine that just an hour before, their pain-stricken faces appeared on a movie screen as they described the sexual abuses they encountered as children in the documentary “Broken Silence.”

Grapevine senior and director David Alvarado and a team of volunteers from Texas Filmmakers created the movie to share the stories of survivors in their own voices.

Sugarland senior Tara Lynn Smith will never forget the feel of her stepfather’s hands the night he tried to molest her. She will never forget her older sister’s tears the night Tara confessed the incident, only to find the same man had been abusing her oldest sister for six years. She will never forget the day the court punished him for his abuses – 10 years probation and not one night in jail.

In the documentary, which premiered Wednesday night at the Movie Tavern, Tara dropped a clay pot to symbolize the effect the abuse had on her family. The shattered pieces lay at her feet as she tried to explain what it was like to move on.

Florence senior Rebecca Stafford sat on a rock on a green rolling hill, hugging her knees to her chest. She looked into the camera as she explained that even though speaking out against her grandfather’s abuse of her divided the family, it had been worth it. She said she wished parents had been more aware of the symptoms of child abuse.

Sixteen-year-old Joanna Ludlow seems to have confidence and a poise beyond her years. But as she recalls the memory of being raped by a “family friend” in the upstairs bedroom, fainting and then awaking to the sight of blood, her composure slips. Her counselor taught a valuable way of coping with the memories – Joanna will draw pictures of “him” and throw them into a fire, and then cut up and mutilate wieners before throwing them into the pit, too.

 “You have to speak about it – to help yourself, and to help other people,” Alvarado said. “The more that you’re silent, the more it’s going to continue. Sexual abuse happens behind closed doors. And it’ll stay there until you step out of it. On the other end, you’ll find hope and healing, you’ll find support, and you’ll be leading an example for others who don’t know the necessity of taking a stand.”

Alvarado, a film major, decided to increase awareness of child abuse through a documentary once befriending and later dating a survivor. He also learned of other abuses within his own family.

“It was kind of hard for me to understand at first why a child wouldn’t tell,” Alvarado said. “I was watching the ‘Vagina Monologues’ and one of the girls on there said something that really connected, to me. She said, if it’s one in three girls [that will be sexually abused], and one in seven boys, then everybody knows somebody who was sexually abused as a child. Well, it made sense to me. I was sitting right next to one.”

From there, Alvarado found the rest of the crew through an online database offered as a service through Texas Filmmakers. The cast members he found through a survey and posting flyers up throughout Denton.

“At this point in my life, I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Tara said. “I feel like there was some reason I randomly went into Art Six one day and saw the flyer. It all fell into place.”

The first interview occurred in September, and Alvarado now has 24 hours of footage. There will be three cuts of the film – a feature film, a 32-minute short version and a 13-minute child advocacy video. The rough version of the short film debuted at Movie Tavern to a full house of 300 people.

“I felt very proud,” Smith said. “I’m really happy with the turnout. I feel like a better person now that I’ve done this. I think this has opened up other things. It was just amazing to me.. I think I’ll always be an advocate, and I can’t say that I ever said that before being apart of this film. Now, I’m like, wow, I’m a survivor. I need to tell my story.”

After the film, representatives from Men Against Violence, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the Child Advocacy Center, Court-Appointed Special Advocates and Bikers Against Child Abuse spoke about the issues presented in the film. This discussion was taped and will be added on the end of the film for future audiences.

“I want people to be enraged when they see it,” Smith said. “I want them to be inspired to do something. Whether it be to talking about it, sharing their stories, going to counseling. The general thing is that I want people to talk about it and to be more aware of it. I want everyone to realize that it is a problem with everyone in society. It affects everyone and people don’t really take that in.”

The film’s website,, offers more insight to the film and its cause.

“People think that child molestation happens from the weirdo that jumps out of the bushes,” Lynnette Nadeau, publicity manager for “Broken Silence,” said. “That’s not the case. The child molester comes in through your front door at your invitation. It is almost always somebody that know the family, that knows the child very well. And that’s what makes this such an insidious thing.”

Often times, this makes the reporting process difficult for the child and the family.

“And that is why, when the child makes an outcry, a lot of times people are reluctant to believe it,” Nadeau said. “They’ll say, “Oh, Pastor Bob did this to you? Are you sure?” And then that’s when the child thinks to themselves “well, maybe I’m the one who’s crazy, maybe it didn’t happen, maybe I misunderstood it, maybe it was okay.” Going through the process, for a child, of reporting their abuse is traumatic. The abuse is traumatic and resolving it is traumatic.”

While statistically, Nadeau said, one in four girls and one in seven boys has been sexually molested, these facts only come from reported cases.

“One of the favorite tactics of a child molester is to tell the child, ‘if you let me do this to you, then I wont hurt your sister or your brother,’” Nadeau said. “The perpetrator will tell the child that by acquiescing to their demands, they won’t hurt the other siblings. Often times that one child becomes the focus target or victim, until that child reaches  a certain age, at which point the child loses attractiveness for the perpetrator. And then indeed they go on to prey on the other siblings. And then it is at that point that the first child that was injured will come forward.”

Since children are taught to obey authority figures, reporting them is an extremely difficult, but necessary, task.

“On average, a pedophile will have molested eight different children before they are caught the first time,” Nadeau said. “They are finding more and more, they are coming to understand, that there is little you can do the cure a pedophile. There is no cure. It is their preferred partner for sex, is a child.”

“Broken Silence” points to prevention as the main solution to child molestation. The more society is aware of and speaks out on the issue, the better equipped they are to stop it.

“It was the same thing happening to the people who went through it, it was the same circumstances, and I just assumed it had to have the same solution,” Alvarado said. “Because that’s how you get past it yourself, that’s also how you prevent things from happening in the first place. You have parents who are educating their children, you have organizations that are backing up the ones that this is happening to, and the sooner you get people in to help these children –the sooner the better. And you can see that in the interviews. The way they’re dealing with things, it’s almost like you can gauge how much and how negatively it affects them by what the family did. It’s almost like who was there to help them made the difference in how they deal with it.”

The documentary, and the team who created it, hopes to help those who went through abuse themselves, as where as educate those who haven’t.

“What we want people to come away with is if you’ve been sexually abuse, you’re not alone,” Nadeau said. “The only way to heal is by coming forward. The other thing that will help you to heal is to know that there are thousands of other people who’ve been through what you’ve been through. And there are organizations and agencies now who are able to help you get through this. By maintaining silence, you allow these perpetrators to continue hurting other children.”