Survivors' Advocate

Alum uses her voice to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Written by: 
Sydney Cooper
Sarah Burns
Sarah Burns ('04)

As an 8 year old, Sarah Burns ('04) was a victim of sexual abuse who found herself without the resources necessary to heal. The transition to adulthood, along with the strain on her personal relationships, left her depressed and physically unhealthy. Burns found it nearly impossible to trust others' intentions. She didn't find a therapist and psychiatrist until she was 20.

"There are challenges that may have been different for me and my family, had these resources existed," Burns says. "Child abuse can set people back in a lot of ways. Children that do not have services to heal are more likely to not finish school, be unhealthy or be victims of human trafficking."

Now, the Mayborn School of Journalism graduate uses that personal experience to inform her role as the chief marketing officer at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, which seeks to improve the lives of abused children. The organization opened its doors in 1991, and now serves more than 7,300 children and their non-offending family members each year.

"Practicing my discipline by working with an organization with a strong mission means that I can maximize the investment of my time and talents, and hopefully my impact on the community," she says.

Burns first became interested in using communications as a means to reach a common goal as a child. She witnessed the miscommunications that happened between her father, a minister, and members of the church, particularly those within the higher ranks. So in 2002, she transferred from Oklahoma State University to UNT, majoring in journalism with a concentration in public relations and minoring in marketing. She was a student member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and wrote arts and culture articles for the North Texas Daily. While at UNT she was mentored by UNT alum Jaqueline Lambiase ('84, '92 M.A.) and George Getschow of the Mayborn.

"I felt prepared to start my career in PR and marketing because of them," she says. "They were champions and mentors for me."

Lambiase taught Burns how to measure the effectiveness of her own work. She learned that you can measure behavior change, sentiment, and what a key message is. These skills helped Burns feel most prepared for her career.

After UNT, Burns started her career as a marketing and communications associate at the Catholic Charities of Dallas. She then moved to the Genesis Women's Shelter as a marketing and community education coordinator and served as a board member for the shelter's Young Leaders program. Burns learned "how to pitch new ideas, how to try new things, when to ask for forgiveness later and when to pump the breaks." She learned how to be herself because of her supervisors Jan Langbein and Lara Gaither, who led by example.

"There has been a culture shift around domestic violence," says Burns, who also went on to work at Children's Medical Center Dallas and the Texas  Women's Foundation. "Back then, as a public, we didn't talk about it. But domestic violence is an issue that affects a lot of people."

Burns continues to be a member of PRSA and serves as an advisory board member for the Mayborn School of Journalism, where she mentors students and serves as an example of the life-changing impact communications can have.

"At the very minimum, if my work is effective, then there is more awareness about the issue of child abuse and the Children's Advocacy Center," she says. "The people I reach through those efforts may now be able to recognize signs of child abuse and know how to report it or if it's a child victim, they might know there are safe adults and help for them."

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