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6-12-14 enditnow: a young filmmaker is breaking the silence
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by Julio C. Muñoz

 

 
Daniel Wahlen, Director of The Hideout, and his mother Gina Wahlen, telling about the background of the film at the 2014 enditnow Summit on Abuse  [Photo by Julio Muñoz]
 
 
The audience sat in silence as the words lingered on the screen: “The film you are about to see portrays something that happens every 2 minutes every day — child sex abuse. . . .Those who sexually abuse children come from all levels of socio-economic backgrounds, professions, and education, and are not limited by race, age or gender."
 
For the next quarter of an hour participants at the second annual enditnow abuse summit watched the story of Holly unfold through the dramatic short film, The Hideout, which sensitively yet powerfully portrays the delicate topic of child sex abuse. 
 
The Hideout was an emotional opening to the enditnow Summit on Abuse, a training event, which took place at the Adventist Church World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., on May 1-4.  The summit focused on educating attendees on how to respond to the abuse of women, children, and men, in churches and their local communities. The summit included a variety of experts on abuse including attorneys, health care professionals, physicians, social workers, and psychotherapists.
 
enditnow, which was launched in October 2009, is a global campaign to raise awareness and advocate for an end to violence against women, children, and men around the world. This campaign has already mobilized hundreds of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists® and their community supporters in more than 200 countries and territories, joining to end this worldwide pandemic.
 
According to organizers, the force behind enditnow’s success are young people such as Daniel Wahlen, the writer and director of The Hideout, who have shared their talents and taken to social media to create a global movement, galvanizing neighbors, friends, family, and church members to take a stand in favor of human rights, tolerance, and building on the Adventist Church’s long tradition of responding to the needs of all human beings.

 
Daniel Wahlen on the  set of The Hideout, discussing a scene with the camera operator [Photo Courtesy of Daniel Wahlen]
 
 

Daniel, a recent graduate of Southern Adventist University’s film production program, wrote and directed The Hideout to raise awareness about child abuse and to encourage those who have experienced abuse to speak out. Two of his financial supporters were the Women’s Ministries Department of the Adventist Church in North America (NAD) and the Women’s Ministries Department of the world church, which cosponsor the enditnow Summit on Abuse. Other sponsors included the NAD Department of Education, and the world church’s Department of Family Ministries.

 
“I'm really grateful for the people that helped make my film happen,” says Daniel while sitting next to his mother, Gina Wahlen, who joined him onstage to introduce the movie before its screening. “But we need a lot more of that because I'm just one filmmaker and there's a whole [lot] more.”
 
Daniel is passionate about filmmaking. He and his family are also passionate about raising awareness about child abuse and providing survivors with a nonjudgmental, supportive platform to come out and tell their stories. The film’s storyline about this tragic issue is very personal to the Wahlen family.
 
A few years earlier, Daniel learned that some of his childhood friends had been molested—by his maternal grandfather. When the time came for Daniel to do his senior film project, he decided to take the opportunity to turn something tragic around into something that would help others.
 
“I wanted to raise awareness of this taboo topic,” says Daniel, “to let people know this is happening, even within the church. And I wanted to give victims a voice, to let them know that they are not alone, and to encourage them to speak out and get help.”
 
The film also became a way to work out the myriad of emotions and unanswered questions for Daniel and his family. “When I heard that he was going to write about this, and as we talked about it, I became excited. I realized it was a way for victims to have a voice, and that was very cathartic. For a while I just had to keep the fact that my father is a sexual predator inside of me,” says Gina Wahlen, who like Daniel is a writer and advocate for survivors of abuse. “Who could I tell? It’s such a shameful thing. How could I process this? Watching this film come into reality was very healing.”
 
 Daniel agrees. “I do know that the making of this film was a way to process feelings for me,” he says. “I think it can be difficult when you're feeling anger and hatred, and you’re upset and frustrated. You know, film is great, and being able to pour emotion into something really can help — it is cathartic.”
 
The authentic dialogue and believable characters in the film are attributed to the many conversations Daniel had, not only with his mother, but with several victims of child sex abuse and with professionals at the Child Advocacy Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
 
We got discussions going and stories sprang to life from that,” says Daniel. “I tried to include some of the things that abusers actually say to children, such as, ‘I’ll kill you (or your mother) if you tell,’ or ‘I’ll make it so you can’t have any children.’” 
 
“It’s very authentic dialogue,” Gina interjects. “Those words are really straight out of the mouths of abusers.”
 
The authenticity and the film’s basic lesson of speaking out is what led the enditnow organizers to sponsor Daniel’s vision.
 
“The purpose of the enditnow campaign is to shine a light on the abuse that is taking place in Adventist ranks and our communities — our homes, schools, and churches — and to send the message that all abuse is evil and must be stopped,” states Carla Baker, director of Women’s Ministries for the Adventist Church in North America. Carla was one of the original members of the partnership of ministries that helped launch enditnow.
 
"Daniel’s powerful film is a great tool for our campaign," continues Carla. "Besides the informational aspect of the enditnow campaign, we also seek to give a voice to victims by giving them a safe forum to talk about their abuse and point them to hope and healing. We hope The Hideout empowers many survivors, young and old, to speak out. We are proud to support Daniel’s vision as it aligns with our campaign goal to 'break the silence about abuse.'"

 
Daniel Wahlen on the set of The Hideout, with the young actor, Christa Beth Campbell, who portrays an abused child, preparing to film a pivotal scene [Photo Courtesy of Daniel Wahlen]
 
 

Once Daniel finished writing the script for The Hideout, he teamed up with Producer Matthew Disbro to find the perfect actors for his film. Christa Beth Campbell was cast in the lead role as the child victim of abuse. An experienced actress for her young age, she had several conversations with Daniel about playing the pivotal role and the characters’ reluctance to speak about the abuse.
 

“I tried to write about this little girl’s journey in a voice of what she might be feeling. Because I feel like after going through that…the last thing [a victim] wants to do is say anything,” says Daniel. He talked to Christa about playing the role with the numbness a victim would feel — especially a child — numb to the world.  “It’s really a shock to a child,” he says.
 
 “Too often we don’t know what to do when someone confides they’ve been abused or when we suspect someone is being abused,” says Carla Baker. “Generally we do the very worst thing — nothing. Doing nothing allows the abuse to continue and intensifies the consequences to the victim. It also sends a message that the Church doesn’t care about victims.”
 
enditnow is vitally important for the Adventist Church because unfortunately, we live in a sinful world and the church is not immune to the sinful things that happen in this world,” adds Gina Wahlen. “In fact, perpetrators often target churches because it appears to be a safe environment and people are more trusting, so sometimes churches are easy prey. We've got to talk about it.”
 
The Wahlens told their powerful personal story to the audience of nearly 200 summit attendees comprised of church workers and lay persons on opening night. Their story, like the enditnow campaign, strives to inspire more people to raise the dark veil of secrecy from this growing tragedy — including inside the Adventist Church.
 
Following the opening night program, Daniel and his mom stood at the front of the auditorium in the Adventist Church Headquarters, greeting many supporters and some victims of abuse who thanked them for sharing their story. The film was starting a conversation, and that’s just what Daniel intended.
 
“I would really like to encourage those who are survivors to tell someone about it, to find healing. And if they've found [healing] already, to share [their story] with others so they can also find healing,” says Daniel, his voice filled with passion. “I would also like [my film] to raise awareness for those who may not realize that abuse affects them, and really, just open up the discussion for something that is taboo and really shouldn't be.”
 
In fact, the topic of abuse, especially child abuse, has been taboo in the Adventist Church, with many denying that it existed to the same degree that it does in society. But that is changing with the enditnow campaign. Bolstered by an army of young people, the movement has collected more than 500,000 signatures from church members and community supporters pledging to speak out about abuse wherever it occurs.
 
“I think enditnow is crucial because now the Church is listening and taking an interest [in abuse]. It's not like ‘oh, you know, we need to protect our reputation,’ says Daniel. “This is about acknowledging that this problem exists and showing those who have been affected that they matter. And its about educating those who don't know about abuse and providing a platform for those who need to speak.”
 
The Wahlens, as well as enditnow organizers, hope that the reach of the campaign continues to grow. Their hope is that the attendance for the next Summit on Abuse will increase considerably, and that more pastors will get involved, and that the movement will extend to every level of the church. Daniel would love to see his fellow college students get even more involved, with chapters of enditnow being developed on every campus.
 
But most importantly, the organizers and supporters of enditnow around the world believe that this campaign is one of the most powerful outreach tools for the Adventist Church to make a positive impact in our communities—bringing hope to, and making lasting change in people’s lives. While some Adventists would prefer a more traditional approach, supporters believe there is a place for nontraditional approaches, especially to engage young people.
 
“I get frustrated by people who say ‘If it ain't broke don't fix it.’ Well, this is not an either/or situation. We can use nontraditional campaigns such as enditnow, or film, or a host of other wonderful things to reach people,” says Daniel, nearly rising to his feet, full of creative passion. “We can still do Bible studies, and go door-to-door, do Revelation seminars…it's not an either/or, we can do it all.”
 
Without missing a beat, Gina picks up where Daniel left off. She speaks in a calm, deliberate voice, full of optimism.
 
“We are called to heal the brokenhearted. And Jesus reached out and healed people and then He invited them to follow Him. The enditnow campaign really has the potential to reach out and bring healing to people as well as awareness and prevention. And I think that as we reach people at this level of need, their hearts will be opened to hearing the gospel.”
 
The Hideout continues to break the silence on abuse as it is being screened in various film festivals. In its first festival, The SONscreen Film Festival, The Hideout swept most of the major awards, winning Best Dramatic Short, Best Cinematography, Best in Festival, and the all-important, Audience Choice Award.
 
After it has completed the film festival circuit, The Hideout will be more widely available online. You can follow the film and watch its trailer at www.thehideoutfilm.com. To learn more about enditnow visit http://www.enditnownorthamerica.org.
 
Enough is enough; enditnow and break the silence about abuse.
 

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