Before jumping into this review, please note that sexual abuse is a primary theme of Silent Waves and is discussed both in the podcast and in this review. Please take care of yourself, and avoid reading this review if needed.
“Our only escape is our voice,” says Raquel O’Brien in the final moments of Silent Waves. “To all survivors, I urge you to take the first step of your journey, to uncover your truth, to gain sovereignty over your story. Each time a survivor speaks out, our truth echoes in the ear of another.”
It’s this sense of honesty and solidarity that weaves through every moment of Silent Waves, a harrowing podcast about the cycle of abuse from someone who has lived through–and almost perpetuated–that vicious circle.
Silent Waves tells one true story led by 25 year old Raquel O’Brien, as she attempts to liberate herself from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and a father with a dark secret.
To do so, she has raw, brutally honest and open conversations with her family about the cataclysmic circumstances of their story for the first time… and all on tape.
What emerges is a larger story as her previously fractured family, emboldened by being interviewed, find the freedom to confront their conflicting versions of the events and reconcile with it and each other.
When it comes to emotional reporting on a single story, podcasts have a spotty track record when it comes to ethics. Serial and S-Town were both major successes, but both heave been heavily criticized due to their lack of journalistic integrity and voyeuristic storytelling tactics. Executing someone’s story, especially one as vivid and graphic as this, often feels like a slippery slope into what is essentially podcast’s answer to reality TV with a highly intellectual aesthetic. Where Silent Waves (co-created by O’Brien and Georgina Savage) excels most is its self-awareness, both of these tactics and with the host’s understanding of herself.
Silent Waves is aware of podcasting’ history of voyeuristic storytelling. The podcast subverts this idea by flipping the typical journalist-looking-in story on its head: the podcast is created and hosted by O’Brien, who’s also the main subject of the story. The podcast follows her life, her experience, and her desire to tell her story. While the argument can be made that the stories of the others involved verges on exploitative, rooting everything in O’Brien’s own story–as well as her clear desire to portray everyone as truthfully as she is able, even and especially when it paints her in a negative light–keeps that from ever feeling like the case.
And that willingness to show herself in a negative light is another part of what makes Silent Waves such an important, beautiful listen. O’Brien’s desire to tell her story isn’t just to explain what happens to abuse survivors: it’s also driven by a desire to show how abuse survivors can unknowingly exhibit abusive behaviors. This level of self-awareness is something incredibly difficult for most abuse survivors, and it isn’t something depicted accurately in any other piece of media I’ve experienced. Silent Waves isn’t a way of justifying abuse survivors’ own abusive actions, or condemning them; instead, it’s an honest depiction without judgment, a way to show the reality of the situation that many who haven’t experienced abuse might not be aware of. It’s a way to educate those who haven’t dealt with this form of trauma, and it’s a call to action to be self-aware for those who have.
Silent Waves is a fascinating and painful listen. It’s direct, honest, and deeply emotional. O’Brien narrates calmly between interviews in which she’s clearly sobbing with a member of her family. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story, especially if you’ve experienced some form of abuse–but for those who haven’t, it’s a look into a situation that might be difficult to comprehend from the outside. It’s as educational as it is enrapturing, giving the voice to so many survivors who have been silenced.
Silent Waves is a beautiful-sounding podcast with elegant production, delicate pacing, and a subtle but thematically appropriate score–but all of those things seem silly and superfluous to comment on within the context of this podcast.
Make sure you understand what you are getting into before you start Silent Waves. It has explicit, direct discussions of childhood sexual abuse. It tracks the aftermaths of what abuse does to people, and it does follow a narrator who clearly states she has had to move past abusive tendencies. But if you are able, do start it. Silent Waves is a story that will linger with you well past its runtime, whether it’s because it’s helped educate you on situations like these, or because it’s finally given you a voice.
You can find Silent Waves on their website.