Federal Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse

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On December 19, 2016, the Office of Violence Against Women, US Department of Justice in Partnership with the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) hosted a Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse, which was held at the Office of Justice Programs in Washington, DC. The brainchild and vision of JBC-grantee Luz Marquez Benbow, the purpose of the meeting was to engage in a critical dialogue with federal agencies about the work to end child sexual abuse, while highlighting the leadership of survivors and community-based culturally specific approaches to ending child sexual abuse.  

#LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons presented on Panel II: Survivors Organizing for Justice and Accountability. She shared the panel with JBC grantees: (L-R)  Strong Oak Lefebvre  (Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition),  Aqeela Sherrills  (The Reverence Project),  Erin Esposito  (IGNITE),  Sonya Shah  (Project Ahimsa), and  Sujatha Baliga  (Impact Justice)

#LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons presented on Panel II: Survivors Organizing for Justice and Accountability. She shared the panel with JBC grantees: (L-R) Strong Oak Lefebvre (Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition), Aqeela Sherrills (The Reverence Project), Erin Esposito (IGNITE), Sonya Shah (Project Ahimsa), and Sujatha Baliga (Impact Justice)

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Here's a brief excerpt from the statement that I read at the roundtable:

"My name is Aishah Shahidah Simmons and my JBC-funded project is called #LoveWITHAccountability.  It was conceived and born out of my own personal child sexual abuse healing work... What I have learned so far through this work, and through my own personal journey, is that love with accountability is hard—perhaps nothing is harder—but it is worth the struggle.  Child sexual abuse, by its nature, is complex and together we must demand accountability systems that honor that complexity.  Until we do, we will not end this epidemic. "

***

I had a lot of initial and also subsequent reticence about attending/participating at the Office of Violence Against Women (US Department of Justice) in partnership with the Just Beginnings Collaborative's Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse because I have always, always worked outside of government structures. I decided to take an intentional leap because I trusted JBC-fellow, sister-survivor Luz Marquez-Benbow's vision that was FULLY supported by JBC's executive director Monique Hoeflinger.

I was emotionally full after one and a half days of meeting, connecting, deep listening, deep authentic sharing, and co-envisioning a world without violence with sibling survivor comrades in the inaugural JBC cohort. It was also a powerful experience to share and engage with appointed and career staff who work on violence against children in U.S. Government Agencies. A huge part of that power was sharing the space with incredibly courageous child sexual abuse survivors and advocates whose lived experiences are different from my own, but who share a demonstrated commitment to addressing this inhumane epidemic humanely. We were a compassionate truth telling collective of individuals.

For many of us in the JBC cohort, it was the first time that we met each other in person. For all* of us who were able to attend, it was the first time that we gathered. I am exhausted and simultaneously invigorated, challenged, and inspired.

*Kimber J Nicoletti, Joanne N. Smith, Mia Mingus weren't able to attend.

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Why #LoveWITHAccountability

Created by child sexual abuse survivor, adult rape survivor, and award-winning filmmaker/cultural worker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, #LoveWITHAccountability examines how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse (CSA). Funded by the Just Beginnings Collaborative, #LoveWITHAccountability also examines how the silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a direct role in creating a culture of sexual violence in all other institutions—religious, academic, activist, political and professional.


The overwhelming majority of us are taught from birth that regardless of any transgression we may experience from any bio/chosen family member, we must protect the family at all cost. When child sexual abuse survivors privately or publicly break our silences about the sexual harm we experienced as children by bio/chosen family, we are often accused of allowing negative forces to harm ourselves and others, not being mentally stable, not caring about, and/or loving those who “love us the most” – our bio/chosen family.  There’s a painful, uncanny irony that, in the name of familial love and loyalty, CSA survivors are overtly coerced, and covertly encouraged to remain silent. It’s that same familial love and loyalty didn’t keep us safe as children.

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#LoveWITHAccountabiltiy’s focus is on tackling the global epidemic of child sexual abuse through the lived experiences, insights and perspectives of  Black child sexual abuse survivors and advocates.  Similar to my film, NO! whose lens examines the global atrocity of rape through the experiences of Black/African-American rape survivors, #LoveWITHAccountability will be culturally specific and simultaneously accessible to many CSA survivors and advocates regardless of their race, ethnicity and culture.

Addressing and eradicating CSA must be placed on national race, gender and sexuality agendas as a societal (global) ill that impacts ALL of us either directly or indirectly. #LoveWITHAccountability is building and creating space for Black CSA survivors and CSA advocates to use their lived experiences, testimonies, and work as the foundation to co-envision how we can eradicate CSA. When we unapologetically shout and advocate for #BlackLivesMatter, we must be inclusive of CSA and other forms of intra-racial gender-based violence including but not limited to adult rape and domestic violence. 

#LoveWITHAccountability moves with the unequivocal belief that CSA must be eradicated and yet, it will not be eradicated through the prison industrial complex. Personally, I  believe transformative justice (TJ)  is one powerful way that we can move forward with addressing and eradicating CSA. I do not believe in a one size fits all model. TJ is not the only way. There’s also restorative justice and other accountability and healing actions that can be implemented. 
CSA must be addressed through compassionate, accountable transformative justice and understood to be one of the root causes of so much harm that is currently happening in the world.  I am transparent about my not wanting to be connected to anything that is advocating for the state to intervene in detrimentally racist, classist, sexist, heterocentric and transphobic ways. Based on painful her/histories and contemporary realities with criminal (in)justice in Black communities, I’m not interested in #LoveWITHAccountability becoming a part of some federally funded initiative that is attached to a bill that will legitimize locking up more Black and People of Color. I believe the current criminal justice system plays a pivotal role in enforcing the silence about the violence. Simultaneously, I am unequivocal in my unwavering belief that harm doers, including the bystanders, should be held accountable. 

Troubling the waters  -- I believe we have to move beyond this belief that CSA will end in our lifetimes. Ending CSA should always be one of the key goals for liberation. I fully believe we can make seismic shifts towards meeting that goal. Parallel seismic shifts have already happened in other anti-violence (rape and domestic violence) movements but not without detrimental compromises. 

This is deep, delicate, relentless, patient, compassionate, loving, transformational, and healing work to undertake. This is why I am unwavering in my belief that while we have an end goal in mind, we must also view this movement to end CSA as a multi-generational all people on deck effort. If we don’t, we will run the risk of “haste makes waste.”  I don’t want to win many battles while the war still ravages. I’m not interested in devastating compromises that leave any of our survivor siblings behind on the battlefield. I want to compassionately and accountably end this war that spans generations. 


The first #LoveWITHAccountability gathering is an online forum that will be hosted on the online feminist publication, The Feminist Wire from October 17, 2016 - October 28, 2016. Over twenty-five diasporic Black cisgender women, trans men and gender non-conforming people, and cisgender men CSA survivors and/or advocates were invited to share their experiences and perspectives about what accountability looks like when tackling CSA. 

 

[i] The mainstream anti sexual violence movement comes from a radical feminist grassroots herstory. In the early 1970s many rape crisis centers were founded by women survivors, many of who did not have social work, counseling, or psychology degrees. They were majority volunteer organizations with explicitly feminist politics whose work was directly linked to the personal being political. Depending on where we start and fast-forward twenty to forty years later, this national and mainstream movement (on and off) campuses has become extremely professional where in many instances activism is looked down upon.  Over the years, rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters have become more invested in gaining legitimacy with the criminal justice system, the medical industry, and the social service industry. Many have moved from being grassroots anti violence movement organizations that were accountable to the communities that they served to solely professional organizations that are accountable to their institutional funders. In many organizations, survivors are viewed as clients/consumers as opposed to their own social change agents.  (Janelle White interviewed by Aishah Shahidah Simmons for NO! The Rape Documentary, August 2000. This information is not included in the completed film. However, it is part of the NO! video archives.)