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A name isn’t everything these women share

SHARE A name isn’t everything these women share

Grace Call wanted a speaker. She was searching for someone just like Angela Shelton when she happened to turn on "Oprah" and see Angela Shelton talking about her film, "Searching for Angela Shelton."

Call is the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Shelton is a 31-year-old Hollywood scriptwriter and actress who'd always had a hankering to meet other women who share her name. In 2001, Shelton began making phone calls all over the United States, talking to anyone she could find named Angela Shelton.

She asked these complete strangers if they, like she, had been sexually abused. About half of them said yes. A year later, Shelton took a film crew and went to visit some of the other Angelas.

Call invited Shelton to come to Utah in April, which is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Call was looking for someone to put a face on the FBI statistics: One in four women and one in seven men have been sexually assaulted.

Something struck her about Shelton's story, Call said. As she watched the show, she was impressed that Shelton's step-brother, Steve, appeared with her. He, too, dared to break the silence about abuse.

They said their father perpetrated against them, explained Call. "But then the stepbrother also perpetrated against her."

If it is difficult for women to admit they've been sexually abused, it is also a difficult for men, Call said. And then to admit that you, yourself, are a perpetrator . . .

Call says Steve is "powerful" for not trying to excuse his behavior, for not saying, "I abused because I was abused." Instead, he said, "My sexually aggressive behavior caused harm, and I am sorry for that."

Kathryn Toll, who heads the Salt Lake City Film Center, is impressed at Shelton's ability to attract investors to fund her search for other Angelas. "She's marketing this film extremely well," Toll said.

Shelton spoke to the Deseret Morning News from her home in California. She said she looked forward to coming to Utah to show the rough cut of her movie. (Although she does so with the warning that the sound is really rough in places.)

Shelton said her plan in making the movie was "to sort of look at where we are as women." The first part of the film would be meeting some Angelas. The second part of the film would allow the women to "go into their horrible stories, if there are any." And finally, Shelton said, she wanted the ending to be inspirational. "You can do anything."

Shelton didn't count on the fact that a lot of the Angelas would not want to go public with their stories.

When she first called the women, 32 Angela Sheltons were happy to talk to her. Twelve of those said they had been molested or raped — or beaten by their husbands. (Shelton merges physical assault with sexual assault in her film. Call, on the other hand, separates the statistics.)

When Shelton called the Angelas again, to say she'd be coming with a film crew, for a visit, she asked if the women had a place where she could park her huge van and asked if they would let her interview them on camera. Some of the women declined.

It's not a scientific study by any means. Still, Shelton finds it compelling that at least half of the women she met, women who share her name, have been beaten or raped.

When she was calling around the United States, Shelton called an Angela Shelton in South Carolina, where she had grown up. Coincidentally, this Angela was studying criminal justice and was tracking sexual predators.

Shelton, the filmmaker, asked the South Carolina Angela to find out if the filmmaker's father was on the sex offender list. He wasn't. He'd never been convicted of being a pedophile.

Shelton kept this fact in the back of her mind. She did not, at the time, intend to make herself a very big part of the story.

But then, when she was on the road with her film crew, driving through South Carolina, her cameraman pointed out to her that it was Father's Day. So Shelton went to visit her father. He signed a release form for the interview. They talked, and he denied ever abusing her. Looking back on it, Shelton said, "It is a pretty awful section of the film."

She feels sad every time she watches it. She gets mad at herself for not yelling, not calling him a liar. "I wasn't brave at all," she says. "I wimped. I became the little girl wanting her daddy back."

But, she says, this faltering of strength happens to a lot of survivors. "I'm not the only one, for sure," she has learned. Just as she's learned she's not the only Angela Shelton in the world.

If you go

What: Screening of "Searching for Angela Shelton," followed by a discussion with the film's director, Angela Shelton

When: Tuesday

Where: Main Salt Lake City Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, 4 p.m.; Westminster College's Gore Auditorium, 1840 S. 1300 East, 7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Phone: 746-0404

E-mail: susan@desnews.com