Oh, to Be Free Again: Love, Accountability & Bodily Integrity in Response to Child Sexual Abuse by C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 

By C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.


Our communities, families, and lives are connected now more than ever. We live in a vivid social and political moment where the voices of victims of violence are heard and felt across various communities and reach the ears of the most powerful in our society. There is no hiding: the harm done to one, whether out of hurt, fear, pain or powerlessness deeply impacts us all.

To me, love with accountability means that each of us, individually and collectively, should and must do all that we can to ensure that when there are violent or abusive acts perpetrated against woman, children or communities that we all stand and take responsibility for the harm inflicted. No one is absolved of responsibility because we all have a role to play, big or small, in making sure justice is served and wholeness is restored.

I am a single mother by choice to two children—boy-girl twins, aged seven. When I watch them play and witness how free they feel in their bodies, I am grateful. They know that they own their bodies and are free (or not) to kiss or hug whomever they choose, including those closest to them, without consequence. This is what I have taught them and the power they carry with them in their daily lives.

This freedom, so integral to our emotional, physical and mental wellbeing has been denied to many victims of child sexual assault. The violation, often at the hands of those who are charged with providing care, love and support to them can cause deep and lasting pain. I know this to be true because I did not have this freedom. When I was a child, I did not feel free in my body or empowered to say no.

For more than two decades, I have worked in various ways to heal the wounds inflicted upon me so many years ago—from working and organizing in the movement to end violence against women and girls to writing about my experience with child sexual assault to raising children with bodily integrity. They have all been exercises in my own quest for wholeness.

To be sure, accountability is a significant part of this process and my journey to wholeness. As such, I continue to use my voice to support, affirm and believe survivors. When the perpetrator is known or among us, I also work to reveal the truth of their actions and the harm it has caused, not only to the victim, but to families and communities as well. For me, there can be no reconciliation until the truth is laid bare.

I have had to save and heal myself. It hasn’t been easy. It is my hope that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse will not have to travel their journey alone and that we will all stand with them to create a society and culture where all are free in their bodies.


C. Nicole Mason, PhD is the author of Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) and is Executive Director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest at the New York Women’s Foundation. Prior to her position at CR2PI, Mason was the most recent Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She held the distinction of being one of the youngest scholar-practitioners to lead a major U.S. research center or think tank.  She is also an Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. She has written hundreds of articles on women, leadership development and economic security. Her writing and commentary have been featured in MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, The Feminist Wire, Real Clear Politics, the Nation, Marie Claire Magazine, the Washington Post, the Progressive, ESSENCE Magazine, the Root, the Grio, the Miami Herald, Democracy Now, and numerous NPR affiliates, among others. You can follow Nicole on Twitter @cnicolemason and connect on her Public Facebook Page.