Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
When Danielle Pitkoff arrived on campus at Johns Hopkins University in 2014, going to class was not her first priority.
More important to her was training to volunteer at the university’s crisis intervention hotline for victims of sexual assault. By the spring of her freshman year, she was working independent shifts on the hotline.
“As more people started disclosing to me, I became more vocal about my work,” said Pitkoff. “My first thought was: what can I do to help people feel supported?”
This is the question that motivates Pitkoff’s work. As the youngest team member at Sacred Spaces, a nonprofit committed to helping Jewish institutions respond to and prevent abuse, Danielle jets across North America educating Jewish professionals on abuse prevention best practices. Currently, she is piloting Aleinu, a campaign to provide thousands of Jewish youth-serving organizations with resources to protect the children under their care.
Pitkoff began her work advocating for victims as the director of her university’s Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU). By senior year, she co-directed the group, fielding multiple calls a week and walking victims through university investigations.
“I was constantly on call for every survivor on campus,” she said, describing the work as a “full-time job.”
Nonetheless, she graduated last year with a degree in creative writing and a double minor in Jewish and Near Eastern studies. She navigated the heavy double load by leaning on friends and family, and reminding herself of the honor of carrying others’ stories.
“I am humbled by how many people felt comfortable coming to me as a source of support,” she said.
To manage the emotional toll of spending every day surrounded by people’s darkest moments, she focuses on the strength and resilience of survivors.
“I choose to see the beautiful things,” she said.
A student of ancient Sumeria: Pitkoff wrote her senior thesis on Inanna, the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, sensuality and fertility. The research, for which she received an award from her university’s gender and sexuality department, combined her interests in Near Eastern history and modern-day concepts of gender.