It Takes Two: Helping Secondary Survivors of Sexual Violence

A life of giving equals a life of living. In Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington writes, “Make small gestures of kindness and giving a habit, and pay attention to how this affects your mind, your emotions, and your body.” 

I was recently introduced to the As One Project, Inc., a female-driven nonprofit co-founded by Angela Esquivel and Teri Rosenberg, which expresses giving through wellness, sensitivity, and justice. The As One Project is the first national nonprofit of its kind that builds the capacity of individuals to effectively support survivors of sexual violence so that communities can move forward as one. 

Esquivel and Rosenberg are two dynamic peas in an influential giving pod. Their humanitarian efforts provide support for the people around a survivor of sexual violence, from friends and family to coworkers, roommates, and partners. 

Sexual violence is a crime that has a deep ripple effect in the community, cutting across all demographics of identity and experience. Sexual violence affects more than just the victim; it touches the community at large. In fact, secondary survivors - those people close to the survivor - may experience personality changes, depression, and emotions related to the trauma. 

It is an opportune time to stress themes related to sexual violence and secondary survivors. September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, which focuses on advocacy, education, and supporting policy initiatives that address sexual assault, stalking, and relationship violence at colleges and universities. A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the highest risk of sexual assault compared to all other age groups.

Angela Esquivel, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the As One Project, highlights the importance of tending to secondary survivors of sexual violence: “As a survivor of sexual assault, I have experienced firsthand how transformative it can be to discuss my experience with someone who has the knowledge and tools to manage my disclosure with empathy, compassion, and sincerity.” 

Imagine trying to communicate your experience of sexual violence only to be met with disbelief, misunderstanding, judgment, and blame. The As One Project recognizes the role and value of the survivor’s support system in the aftermath of an assault. The community around a survivor needs to know how to best support the survivor otherwise they run the risk of re-traumatizing the survivor and impeding the healing process.  

“As a secondary survivor, I recalled feelings of compassion yet powerlessness when supporting a friend,” Teri Rosenberg recounts. The Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of the As One Project continues, “I wanted to harness these feelings and turn them into something that had the power to have a positive impact on others in the same situation.”

Combatting sexual violence involves people having the freedom and courage to take risks; to respond quickly to opportunities and challenges; and to stick with important issues for the long haul while empowering others. Esquivel and Rosenberg experience, learn, and take their intelligence and curiosity to improve the landscape for others. The future of female-led philanthropy is here, striking the right note of ethos and hope.  

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