Sarah's Story

Sarah Ortiz is a mother, an advocate, a public speaker, and a survivor of child sexual abuse.

The first time that Sarah disclosed her abuse was to her mother at 20 years old. In her heart, that was all Sarah wanted to do at first, as she had a close relationship with her mother and considered her like a best friend.

“It was really scary telling her what happened to me because I had been groomed by my stepfather for so long that my mother would never believe me, that she would deny it, and take his side. These were things that he would tell me on a regular basis that made me think I really couldn’t tell her, until it was just too much.”

Sarah’s mother was very supportive once this was disclosed to her. Sarah disclosed the abuse in a written letter and taped it to the front door and then left the house. Once her mother read it and got in touch with Sarah, the first thing she said was: “Come home. He’s leaving; come home.”

Sarah remembers that when her mother told her to come home, “it felt like a weight came off of me. She believed me.”

When Sarah returned home, her mother embraced her. She melted into her mother’s arms and felt an ease as she was held, loved, believed, and protected.

“I told my mom the first time it happened, when it stopped, and how long the abuse had been going on. From that point, I didn’t want to live in the house anymore. I wanted to move because I was molested in every single room of my childhood home. Every room was a horrible memory for me and my mom responded with ‘Okay, we will move then.’”

Sarah and her mother left the house and rented a beautiful townhouse three weeks later, which was like a safe haven to them. After the move, Sarah’s mother contemplated reporting the sexual abuse and asked Sarah if she wanted to go through with it, which she did, because she felt like her stepfather should be brought to justice for the years of abuse Sarah endured at his hands. With the help of a supportive investigator and a district attorney, Sarah’s experience within the system was a great one and ultimately led her to getting justice for herself.

In 2019, Sarah decided to speak publicly about her story for the first time as a keynote speaker for her local Child Abuse Prevention Center in Dutchess County, New York (an organization that was pivotal in ensuring justice was served), where she shared her story in front of hundreds.

“Even standing there, to me, was unbelievable. At 12 and 13 when it was happening to me, I vividly remember laying in my bed, crying, not knowing what was happening saying that I would take this to my grave. Nobody will ever know this happened to me because: A) it makes me feel gross, damaged, and unlovable, and B) because he told me that no one would believe me anyway.”

There were many reasons why Sarah felt like she couldn’t talk about it, but the fact that she was standing in front of a podium talking to a room of 100+ people was mind boggling.

“When they asked me to be a part of the event, I didn’t know the magnitude of the event. All these important county officials were there at the annual banquet that supported the cause. There were so many chairs there; but, I had my mom and a good friend cheering me on. I had so many people supporting me that knew me on a personal level, it was very comforting. I remember going up to the podium shaking, I was so nervous. But when I got up there, I just spoke. The words came and I spoke my truth. It was an amazing experience and I still have the plaques on my wall; one plaque came directly from the New York State Senate.”

After sharing her story, Sarah became a part of the Board of Directors for the Child Abuse Prevention Center in Dutchess County, NY. She also has an interest in working on expanding the state’s statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, especially since she almost missed the cut-off time for reporting on her case. If she had waited one more year, Sarah would not have had the opportunity to press charges and her perpetrator would have still been out and about living his life.

“As survivors, we live with this forever and it affects big things in my life, and I think the statute of limitations should not exist in any state.”

As a director, Sarah has attended board meetings and will continue to help with the budgeting, the day-to-day processes, and a 5k fun run event in September.

Therapy and speaking are among the many things that have been helpful and beneficial to Sarah on her journey to healing.

“Therapy has been helpful. My therapist has known me since I was 16, even before I disclosed, and while it was happening to me, I didn't even tell her. After I disclosed it to her, it was another layer of things to talk about. Therapy has been so helpful to me. In addition to talking about it in safe spaces. The more I share my story, the more power I take back from my abuser. He took so much of my childhood. He took my voice for so long. The reason I speak about it is to help others and to help myself. The more I talk, advocate, and help, the more power I have. He has taken enough from me and he will not take anymore.”

Sarah shares one final thought for survivors and anyone who a survivor might disclose to: “There is so much power in belief. Just the simple sentence of ‘I believe you’ can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life.”

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