PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The soccer field was supposed to be a place of innocence for Sarah Pesi.
But at just 12 years old, a coach – meant to be a role model – turned her world upside down.
“When I was 12, I was being stalked and harassed by an adult in my community,” she said.
She was part of Junior Soccer League in Rostraver, Westmoreland County. Not only a player, but Pesi also worked as a referee for a younger age group. She says the coach began showing up at her games, cornered her, followed her and even pressed himself against her.
She went to police hoping to make it stop, but she got devastating news.
“I found out I wasn’t eligible for any protection because he did not fit the relationship nexus,” Pesi said. “I also found out that not only minors, but anyone isn’t eligible to get a restraining order if the person who’s stalking you is a stranger.”
Because they were public places, she couldn’t stop him. Instead, she quit soccer and changed her own life. By age 14, Pesi had an opportunity in front of her, as party of a youth and government group at school; she drafted her first bill to change the law.
“I thought it was incredibly unfair,” she said. “That’s where my several-year journey on working on making this a law began.”
Fast forward several years later, Pesi is now working with the Women and Girls Foundation. Her hard work paying off, as she’s incredibly close to getting a bill signed that would allow minors being stalked or harassed by adults to file restraining orders.
Pennsylvania is one of the few state that currently does not offer the protection.
“In 38 other states, they protect stalking victims who are being stalked by strangers,” Heather Arnet with the Women and Girls Foundation said. “And of course, most stalking victims are being stalked by strangers.”
“Almost 1.5 million people could have helped since I started working on this bill,” she added.
With a lot of support, Pesi is confident the bill will pass and knows it has the potential to help so many others out there.
“That makes it worth it for me and makes it worth it for everyone who’s been so supportive,” she said.
“Something happened to her that could have made her feel hopeless, or could have made her angry at the world or sad,” Arnet said. “And instead, what it did was really activated this wonderful sense in herself that she could improve the world.”
The bill also includes protecting victims of sexual violence. A house vote scheduled last week, but was postponed. Sarah says the next step for her would be to have the law extended to not just help minors, but also adults being stalked by other adult strangers.