Sonoma County assault survivors talk life in documentary, again

The documentary premiered April 22, 2022 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. It will be shown again on Tuesday in Sebastopol.|

The journey of moving on and learning to thrive has continued for three of the people featured in a local documentary about life after experiencing sexual assault and trafficking.

Peter Rumble is looking back at his accomplishments and trying to piece together a positive self-image.

Megan Berger has spoken more about her experiences to a multitude of audiences, including state legislators.

And, in January, Lisa Diaz began working with others to overcome their traumas and took a job with Verity, a Santa Rosa nonprofit agency that provides support to sexual assault survivors.

All three of them will be revisiting their journey Tuesday, during a screening of the 30-minute film that premiered over one year ago.

Thriving, not just surviving

The half-hour documentary, “Survivors,” will be shown for $15 at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol. Attendees can filter in between 6:30 and 7 p.m., when the film will be shown following a brief introduction.

Following the screening, the four people featured in the documentary will participate in a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Verity Executive Director Chris Castillo.

In the film, the four, Sonoma County survivors of assault and trafficking, discuss their stories, their healing journeys, the resources they have used and how they’ve helped other survivors.

Castillo proposed the film during countywide discussions after three now-former mayors from Sonoma County went through different stages of sexual assault investigations.

The documentary, which was directed by John Beck, was funded by Verity, Kaiser Permanente, the town of Windsor, Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce, Soroptimist International Sonoma Valley and Wine Road.

The goal of the film was to focus on survivors instead of perpetrators and show that life after these encounters can be prosperous, said Castillo, who is also a survivor of human trafficking and sexual assault.

“To see a film with people who have come forward and created healthy lives for themselves is really, really important,” she said.

“I so admire the folks that have come forward and all of the people that we serve,” Castillo added. “The fact that we have the ability to show this film and open doors for people that may have felt doors were closed to them just means a tremendous amount to me.”

Before the film aired, Berger and Diaz had shared their stories, though Diaz talked more openly. Rumble and Sarah Reidenbach, who was not available for an interview for this story, had never talked about their experiences publicly.

Continued healing

“I’m hoping my life will be more defined by before I was able to talk about (my assault) and after I was able to talk about it,” Rumble said in the documentary, which premiered April 22, 2022 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

Rumble, who is the CEO and president of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said speaking more about his sexual assault has lessened the negative impacts that manifested from that experience.

“I still live with thoughts and the impacts of self-image,” he said. “But the weight of them has lessened to a degree. It is less debilitating, less crushing.”

Rumble said since the premiere, he has been able to connect with other survivors, some of whom reach out to him to talk. He has also taken further steps to consider himself as more than the thing that happened to him when he was a third- and fourth-grader.

“I have ran marathons, gone on extreme bike races, done an Ironman (Triathlon), five days a week I go to jiu-jitsu, I have got awards on my wall... and I have tried to take on prominent roles in our community and do meaningful things in my career,” he said. “And I have tried really hard, intensely hard, to break the cycle I experienced, with my own kids.”

Berger, who experienced labor trafficking at age 19, has switched jobs since the premiere of the film, returning to work as an EMT, this time for a mobile crisis unit.

Berger said she is using her knowledge as someone that went through a traumatic incident to help her in the field ― turning her negative experience into a positive for her and the person she is helping.

“It’s not something that you can really teach,” she said, referring to the knowledge she has as a survivor.

Berger had conducted a few seminars on human trafficking before the film aired, but since has been presenting on the topic about twice a month. She has spoken with law enforcement agencies and other government workers, talked with California legislators and presented to a San Francisco district supervisor.

She said she has lost some privacy, but ultimately sharing her story in the documentary has helped to educate people on labor trafficking and allowed her to continue educating beyond the film.

“It made it worth it because it has benefited the community to have that information out there,” she said.

Berger and Diaz are writing their contributions to an anthology about their and three other women’s experiences with assault and trafficking. It is set to publish later this year, Berger said.

Diaz had been speaking openly since 2018 about her sexual assault and being sex trafficked. That same year she co-founded, with Elizabeth Quiroz, Redemption House of the Bay Area, which is a nonprofit that assists human trafficking survivors.

However, as a result of appearing in the film, she has been able to connect more with people she is close to that have gone through similar traumas.

“Seeing me be so open about my story has really encouraged them to ... reach out and acknowledge that it happened, and then seek the resources that are available to them to help them heal,” she said, adding that they have also realized it is not their fault.

Diaz continues her healing journey by helping others who are also overcoming abuse in her job at Verity as a lead human trafficking case worker and during Redemption House’s bi-monthly support meetings for women in need, she said.

Now, she is working to acknowledge that her assault is a part of her story, but that it does not consume her.

Seeing the film

People should attend the screening of the film to see some of the faces of those who have experienced trafficking or assault, Berger said.

Sometimes, she said, the conversations surrounding assault are more big picture or even can center around perpetrators, so seeing real, local survivors ― who all come from different backgrounds ― will make the issue seem more real.

“I think that it can be beneficial for people to put names and faces to things that are happening,” Berger said.

Rumble said the screening and following discussion are important because they help to localize the issue and talk about it in a way that promotes healing after.

“Fundamentally, we need to talk about sexual assault as something real and not an issue or a topic that we are too uncomfortable to deal with,” Rumble said. “Because turning a blind eye … is just allowing it to continue to happen.”

You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at On Twitter @madi.smals.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.