To meet Sabrina Ewart is to meet a lovely young woman, competent in her career as a special needs teacher and special education coordinator, mother of a thriving special needs child, and budding entrepreneur.

She is also a courageous voice speaking from experience as one of the survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of Jeffery Epstein, and is a recipient of this year’s Barbara Blaine Trailblazer Award, accepting while also representing two other survivors who remain anonymous.

Ewart eloquently paints a portrait of how it’s possible to find oneself in such dreadful circumstances, and what it is like to come out on the other side of sexual abuse.  “I was 16 years old at the time,” she recalls.  “My mother was very ill with cancer and dependent on medications, my stepfather had died, and my father lived apart from us. I grew up without a lot of support, and was essentially left to my own devices and was making my own decisions. I was the perfect profile for falling into such a circumstance.”

As a high school teacher working with emotionally and behaviorally challenged students, she now realizes 16-year-olds don’t understand that decisions they make now can have life-long effects.  She is still working through the impact of her own experiences.

“It was actually difficult for me to identify as a victim,” Ewart says. “In my mind I thought I should have known better, that I ignored the red flags and, in some ways, brought it all on myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed, and I felt like a fool. I also didn’t have the same experience as most of the other women in terms of physical interaction,” she says even though his actions made her feel very uncomfortable. At that time, however, she didn’t recognize this behavior as sexual abuse.

“It’s taken me a long time, and even now I have my moments,” she says, “I can see that I was victimized, even if my encounters were minimal compared with what the other women went through.  It’s still hard to say I was a victim – that thought that I should have known better – carrying the weight, feeling the stigma, blaming myself. But he had power, more than anyone could imagine, and I’ve found solace in the fact that my speaking up made an impact for the other women.”

Although “terrified and honored” at the same time, Ewart accepts the award to help give a voice to women who didn’t have one, and hopes others will feel able to come forward in the future. “You never know how your story will help someone else,” she says. “Children of all ages and genders are being sexually abused everywhere, and the more we’re quiet, the more we allow it.

“At the end of the day, it’s our story,” she says, “and I will not let fear of judgement dictate my truth.  By speaking out, I remain authentic to myself,” she adds, “and moving forward, hope I am leading by example and showing that our decisions don’t define us forever.”