Rape Victims Applaud Power of Stieg Larsson Films to Educate

?The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? used to raise awareness of sexual violence.

At the age of 13 while awaiting a school bus, Amanda Sandberg was kidnapped by a man in a white van who covered her head in a beanie and bound her mouth with duct tape, repeatedly raping her, at times with broken bottles.

The rapist even returned her to her empty Seattle home and tortured and sexually assaulted her again, leaving her bloody and unconscious in the bathtub.

It took three years to apprehend the man, and in 2004, just days before Sandberg enrolled in college, he was convicted through a cold DNA match and sentenced to 38 years without parole.

Now, 11 years later, Sandberg speaks out about the lifelong trauma of sexual assault and is an unlikely fan of Stieg Larsson, the Swedish crime author whose heroines are the victims of horrific rape and incest.

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Like Larsson's young heroine Lisbeth Salander, the victim of a ritualistic rape, Sandberg is angry, distrustful of others and "fiercely independent."

"It was very cathartic reading the books and when I watched the first movie I was blown away," said Sandberg, 24, now living in Washington, D.C. "It was the first active and aggressive depiction of a survivor I have ever seen."

Just this week, Music Box Films, U.S. distributors for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" are sending the Swedish movie to rape crisis centers and college groups who will show it to support victims of sexual assault.

So far, 125 have signed up, and they are prepared to give away thousands of DVD's for free.

The company has partnered with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to use the films as part of an educational program to advocate for trauma victims and bring attention to assault prevention.

It carries a warning for survivors that they mayface challenges dealing with the graphic rape scenes and experience flashbacks.

Larsson, who died of a heart attack just after handing over the manuscripts to the publisher in 2004, was a champion of women's rights and a crusader against sex trafficking, the central theme in the millennium trilogy.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," now available on DVD, is the highest grossing film in Sweden's history and the most profitable European production in 2009. "The Girl Who Played With Fire" was released to U.S. audiences this summer and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," will premiere Oct. 29.

An American version of the first film starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig will soon begin production.

The films illustrate the real life effects of sexual violence on victims and survivors, emphasizing the importance of getting help.

According to statistics from RAINN, an estimated 248,300 Americans were assaulted in the 2007 and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. College students are more than four times likely to be victims.

The organization is determined to get the films screened and discussed at as many colleges and crisis centers as possible to educate students about sexual assault and to provoke a discussion about how the fictional crimes were portrayed and how those assaults affected the mental health of victims for a lifetime.

Sexual assault survivors are more likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse alcohol and drugs and to contemplate suicide, much like Larsson's fictional characters Salander and Vanger.

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