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 Luz Marquez-Benbow
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey of 2010, states that 1 in 7 Latinas experience rape at some point in their lifetime.
I am one of the seven.
When I share my history of childhood sexual abuse, I am often asked if my brother ever asked for forgiveness or why I still engage with my family? Frankly, I never gave a fuck about an apology for such a gross violent act. Additionally, I, like many incest survivors, struggle with family and guilt, because I never wanted to let go of my family. Most of my thoughts were stuck on the “why’s,” and “what if’s.” As for forgiving myself, this is a life-long process. Forgiveness is complicated by all of the societal sanctioned victim-blaming that occurs on a daily basis. I did forgive myself for thinking that these horrific violations happened to me because in my family, I was “La Prieta” (“the Dark One”).
Despite doing everything my mom told me to do including: wearing shorts under my skirts/dresses, not sitting on any men’s laps, never be alone in the company of a stranger, and to pray, I was still sexually abused.
I wondered, who should pay for the cause of my sexual trauma at the early age of seven:
- My mom who failed to believe me?
- My oldest brother who is more than six years my senior who abused me?
- My community for holding women and girls accountable for the sexual victimization many of us experience within our own communities?
- My Puerto Rican culture whose anti-blackness deemed me “beautiful for a negra linda con pelo bueno” (beautiful for a pretty Black girl with good hair)?
- My Black nationalist movement which fails to acknowledge ALL OF ME…my womanhood; yet, I am called “Queen.”?
I have been in denial about my need for accountability for a long time. Like some survivors, I have struggled internally with these questions, but I never uttered the words out loud; let alone written them anywhere. And yet, here I am in this public forum giving voice for the need for LoveWITHAccountability!
Living a double consciousness is a reality for many incest survivors because it enables us to maintain familial ties, even after the sexual abuse occurred. As a young person, my double consciousness made me very angry. The only way I could stop from harming others or from committing suicide was to use drugs. I was angry at my oldest brother, my mother’s boyfriend, and my mother. I was angry at god, the orishas, y la mano de Azabache (derived from my African and Arawak Spiritual traditions, Boricuas believe that the hand of Azabache is a protector of children); and every fucking being that is supposed to protect children and yet, fails miserably.
I have lived a drug free life for the past 31-years and yet, I still struggle with anger. This is often the reality for most incest survivors because of our engagement with our families. I know it is best and healthier for me and my kids to cut off my family (my mom and my brother) completely, but I can’t entirely disengage from familial ties. Frankly, I need to navigate these dynamics because culturally familial ties are very important for me that it is too painful to not have them in my life. Who is accountable for these contradictions?
As a little girl, I believed I was unlike most kids because I was sexually violated at such a young age in the name of sick love. As an adult, I know this type of violence against children is more rampant than we care to acknowledge in society. National studies state that 90% of sexually abused children know the perpetrator. Furthermore, the impact of child sexual abuse can last a lifetime and is often intergenerational. Childhood is a precious time that informs the rest of all of our lives. Usually what happens to us as children is internalized and passed on from generation to generation. Who is accountable for this loss of childhood because of child sexual abuse, and its’ impact on our kids and their kids?
My first born child Anansa was and is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. I made a commitment to my daughter and two sons that I would protect and listen to their emotions. I was intentional with communicating critical pieces about not harming our bodies and letting them know they can talk to me about anything. I believed that if I couldn’t protect my kids, ‘cause child sexual abuse is some insidious shit, I would be a compassionate mom and most of all believe and support them. Like most parents, I wanted my children to have a childhood free from such abuse. While I was able to break the cycle of child sexual abuse, I want to know who do I hold accountable for the conversations I had to have with my children about child sexual abuse? These are the conversations that many in the Black diasporic community have to have with their children. Who is accountable for these difficult and yet, necessary conversations about the realities of living in a world that views most Black diasporic people, especially our children, disposable? This is evident through rampant police and other forms of state sanctioned white supremacist violence perpetrated in our communities every single day. Our schools including the classroom are not even safe for Black diasporic children. And then, there’s the pandemic of child sexual abuse?
Who is accountable to the Black diasporic child?
As a Black diasporic community, and in particular, my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant Community, we need to have critical dialogues and action strategies about our responsibility to ending child sexual abuse, not because it’s any worse than in other communities; but because we have not held ourselves accountable to ensuring the safety of all our children. We have placed race at the center and marginalized women, children, and LGBTQI people amongst other critical topics in our communities. Liberation for our people must include standing up against misogyny, homophobia, and against the notion that women and children are property. In the name of radical love, I need my Black diasporic brothers to take responsibility to tackle the issue of toxic masculinity and the over-sexualization of our children, of girls/women, and to mentor young brothers. I need for brothers to do this organizing work with the same rigorous conviction that is taken against other issues to hold white amerikkka accountable.
Who is accountable to Black Latinx/Afrodescendant girls/women?
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the notion of what does it mean to be in sisterhood with each other? What does a healthy link or bond feel like with another human being, where everyone holds each other especially at our worst moments? During my time in the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement and disability movement, I explored the concepts of sisterhood and unconditional support within Women of Color spaces and also while supporting Black and Latinx young adults with disabilities. I also learned, from my sibling Dave who lived with a physical disability, that so much is possible when unconditional support exists.
As a 2016-2018 Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) fellow, I am re-imagining with adult survivors of child sexual abuse in my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community, the concept of sisterhood and brotherhood. My project Love in Sister/brotherhood is about creating a space for Black Latinx/Afrodescendant adult survivors of child sexual abuse to give voice to our experiences while building our capacity to make systemic political and cultural change.
Similar to and yet different from my sister-survivor and co-JBC fellow Aishah Shahidah Simmons’#LoveWITHAccountability project, my work is inclusive of community and personal accountability as my project simultaneously creates a network of survivors within my community.
From a Black Latinx/Afrodescendant cultural perspective the term, sisterhood denotes a powerful connection to our historical African traditions as women leaders protecting and teaching the African ways of healing and protecting ourselves so that we never forget our past. My innate being has always believed, upheld, and explored the “sisterhood” within myself and other movements. Presently, I am interested in applying this traditional value/norm as a culturally specific response to supporting adult survivors within my own community. The experience of child sexual abuse can change how we love, how we parent, how we form relationships, and how we cope and heal. Additionally, we live in a world that blames and isolates survivors in particular those of us from Black diasporic communities. However, with Love in Sister/brotherhood we can change this reality for many survivors and leverage our collective power to end child sexual abuse.
This concept of sisterhood was the foundation for the development of the first ever national Women of Color (WOC) led anti-sexual assault organization in the United States that I co-founded over 10 years ago: The National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA). In the late 90’s Women of Color working at State Sexual Assault Coalitions across the United States came together to address the lack of WOC representation and leadership at State Coalitions, as well as the lack of culturally specific services for survivors of Color at the time. This organizing work led a collective of sisters to form a WOC leadership project. To be clear, the leadership project was more about increasing our leadership than it was about leadership development. Many of us women of color were already natural born leaders in our own right. The collective grew and evolved into SCESA. It is with a renewed commitment to sister/brotherhood that the next phase of my work is unfolding.
We know through the public health approaches of promotoras that community can be a powerful intervention in stopping child sexual abuse but like all communities, our Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community needs support and guidance about how to support survivors and to demystify bystander approaches so that a sister/or brother intervenes against abuse.
Shame and judgment are huge barriers that cause many survivors to be isolated from their community. This prevents disclosures or simply hinders critical dialogue about complex issues such as child sexual abuse; which also allows for further vulnerability.
Additionally, general society is losing its sense of human connection, many no longer live in community with each other. As Black Latinx/Afrodescendant communities we, too, are struggling with living in connection with each other. Given this loss of connection and the realities of child sexual abuse, I believe it is, as the revolutionary Assata Shakur states, “our duty” to rebuild our communities’ capacity to provide Love in Sister/brotherhood. The late human rights warrior Grace Lee Boggs once stated, “We have to change ourselves in order to change the world,” but not because something is wrong with us, but because Lee Boggs understood that the revolution begins with self and in community with each other. Love in Sister/brotherhood is critical to rebuilding our lives, breaking the cycle of abuse, dispelling the shame and guilt many of us live with and supporting others in our communities to do the same.
A child is not capable of causing anyone to violate them sexually. Nothing I did nor said meant that men, Black Latinx/Afrodescendant men, my brother and brothers in the struggle for our people’s liberation, could push their gender in my face and treat me as property. When we, Black diasporic people, are not accountable to each other for child sexual abuse in our communities, we burden Black children’s bodies and psyches with the responsibility of carrying their unacknowledged sexual trauma. Meanwhile, they simultaneously carry all of the vile white supremacist toxicity directed towards Black diasporic people for their entire lives. This was the reality of this former 7-year-old, who didn’t think that I was worthy of holding anyone accountable for my safety, including my family.
We are all responsible for protecting the Black diasporic child. When we don’t, we must be accountable for our actions or lack thereof. Love in Sister/brotherhood will provide a platform for my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community to follow through on our non-negotiable duty to protect the Black diasporic child by ending child sexual abuse.
Luz Marquez-Benbow is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow (JBC) where she is focused on building a survivor network of Black Latinx/Afrodescendantes to advance social change and movement building toward ending child sexual abuse.
For over 15-years, Luz has worked on issues related to sexual assault. In the late 90’s, Luz served as the Director of Outreach and Policy for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA). In 2003, Luz co-founded and was the former Associate Director for the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA). In this capacity, she worked closely with national policy advocates, and Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2005 and 2012. Most notably, Luz co-led the efforts to develop the Culturally Specific Grant Program in VAWA, and ensure that all national violence against women policy is reflective of the needs of Communities of Color throughout the U.S and Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S Virgin Islands. She also worked to reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention Services Act of 2010.
Prior to working on sexual assault issues, Luz worked within the disability rights movement, primarily as the work related to self-advocacy, community inclusion and leadership of People with Disabilities.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse, incest, and rape, Luz is very passionate about ensuring that the voices of Communities of Color are included in all aspects of ending violence against women. Over the years, Luz has connected sexual assault to the history of enslavement of African people and the colonization of our lands, such as Puerto Rico, to link our collective struggles as People of African descent throughout the Americas. Luz is a Black Boricua mother of 3 and wife.