“It Takes A Village”: Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

I had big plans for writing the Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability forum, but the truth is I am worn out completely. In the spirit of transparency, I recently became consumed with so much internalized conflict about how my grandfather and also my father would come across in my mother’s courageous contribution to this forum that I couldn’t focus on how I would bring closure to this forum. I, the unapologetic BLACK FEMINIST, was initially unable to fully APPRECIATE that, per my 12th hour invitation to participate, my mother PUBLICLY held herself accountable in this forum. I was more worried that The Feminist Wire readers would think that my Pop-pop was a horrible person. He definitely did horrible things to me as a child but I do not believe he is a horrible person. I didn’t want readers to inquire why I didn’t invite my father to contribute to this forum. He and I are still on the journey. We are not in a place to publicly share about our process. I was still in protection mode.

As a result, I couldn’t accept the invaluable sacred gifts of my mother both privately and publicly articulating the decades long harm inflicted upon me, and deeply heartfelt apologies with meaning. As sister-survivor-comrade Luz Marquez-Benbow wrote in her article, “incest is some insidious sick shit.” The postscript that I wrote at the end of my “mother’s lament” was a brand new development in response to my deep angst. It was not a part of the original plan for this forum. As a result, I do not have the wherewithal to go any deeper right now. My gratitude for my mother pushing herself to get here on her and my journey is endless. I am personally reminded that it is never too late for accountability and healing.

My goal with the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire was to create a virtual space to both ignite and also continue dialogues about the taboo topic of child sexual abuse in diasporic Black communities in the wake of all of our heightened awareness about state sanctioned white supremacist violence committed against Black people and our communities. Twenty-nine intergenerational diasporic Black people disclosed and explored child sexual abuse, healing, justice, and love with accountability over a period of ten-days on The Feminist Wire. I’ve only been pregnant once in my life and had an abortion six-eight weeks later. Yet despite my lack of knowledge about carrying a pregnancy to term, I frequently used the analogy of being the thirty-four-week pregnant doula who actively engaged with supporting twenty-eight concurrent births. This was my journey with the #LoveWITHAccountability forum. This forum was hardcore work for many of the contributors to share their truths about what happened to them as children, and to also share their visions for a world free from sexual violence against children and adults in a public forum.

The #LoveWITHAccountability forum is a continuation of work that precedes this collaborative project, and it is also a beginning. As diverse as the forum is, I am clear that there is always room for more diversity. It is twenty-nine drops in the vast child sexual abuse ocean, which is not to take away from the individual and collective power of those profound drops. Every drop plays an important role in creating the waves of seismic change. It’s extremely important for me to acknowledge that there are additional marginalized voices from within the diasporic Black community that aren’t featured in this forum. This is a beginning.

Up until it was time to publish the articles and poems, I was a one-woman entity. This was intentional by my design and it has taken its toll. I thought I was going into the very deep end of the pool with this forum. Instead, I found myself in the middle of an ocean of trauma. Fortunately, I had many resources in the form of twenty-four years work with Dr. Clara Whaley-Perkins, a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the Life After Trauma Organization, a fourteen year practice of vipassana meditation, and a trusted inner circle of sister-sibling-brother friends during this process including Mia Mingus, Jennye Patterson, Heba Nimr, C. Nicole Mason, Marie Ali, Josslyn Luckett, Heidi R. Lewis, Tamura Lomax, Luz Marquez-Benbow, Mari Morales-Williams, Nikki Harmon, Yvonne M. Jones, Kai M. Green, Sonja Ebron, Evelyne Laurent-Perrault, Jonathan Crowley, and Molly Broeder Harris. Even with all of human and spiritual resources, there were several times when my head went under the water. I didn’t drown because of the support of resources. The waters are calm for now. I hope I can mentally and emotionally rest a while before the ferocious waves return because they will return. This is the nature of personally and professionally tackling child sexual abuse as an adult survivor. There are so many layers of residual trauma.

It took a village to make this forum a reality. I want to share gratitude for many individuals who directly and indirectly made this forum a reality. The #LoveWITHAccountabilty project probably would not exist without the support of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC). I do not believe I could psychologically and emotionally focus on child sexual abuse day in and day out while simultaneously doing other non-related work to financially sustain me. JBC’s founding executive director Monique Hoeflinger was an important source of unwavering support during both the incubation period and the literal launch of both the project and the forum. John L Jackson, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) enthusiastically welcomed me as a Visiting Scholar. His support of me and my work has also been unwavering.  Director Susan Sorenson invited me to be an Affiliated Scholar at the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence, which affords me the gift of an opportunity to engage with graduate and undergraduate students whose research and scholarship is focused on addressing various forms of family violence.

All of the JBC individual fellows and two organizational grantees came together in the first quarter of 2016 and formed an ad-hoc collectively defined #SurvivorUnion.  We worked together to support each other both in response to an organizational crisis and with our individual projects, which focused on addressing and ending child sexual abuse. It hasn’t always been a crystal stair amongst us, and I am profoundly grateful for the community that we, Mia Mingus (Living Bridges Project),Luz Marquez-Benbow (Love in Sister/Brotherhood), Amita Swadhin (Mirror Memoirs), sujatha baliga(Impact Justice), Tashmica Torok (Firecracker Foundation), Sonya Shah (Project Ahimsa), Ignacio G. Rivera (The Heal Project), Ahmad Greene-Hayes (Children of Combahee), and Aqeela Sherrills co-created. I can’t imagine this journey without their presence, friendship, camaraderie, and support. Each of these individuals are doing incredible ground-breaking work to pull up the roots of child sexual abuse in marginalized communities. I continue to learn so much from them and their work, which inspires my own.

During the first six months of 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to be the Sterling Brown Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College. My Africana Studies colleagues Rhon Manigault-Bryant and James Manigault-Bryant invited me to Williams College and quickly became my friends and spirit family. It is because of them that I was very fortunate to work with my former student and research assistant Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz.  In addition to Rhon and James, I also created a really important close-knit community with VaNatta S. FordRob WhiteSophie Saint-Just and Daniel GoudrouffeRashida BraggsWill RawlsMeg BossongFerentz Lafargue, Vivian Huang, Merída RuaAmal Eqeiq and Anicia Timberlake. I was able to share my work in process with each of them, and I also shared a lot of much-needed laughter and fun times with them in the metropolis known as Williamstown, MA.

 

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I cannot think of any other online publication other than The Feminist Wire (TFW) where I would’ve been able to publish over twenty-five essays, reflections, poems on child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in diasporic Black communities for ten days. These pieces ranged from 700 to almost 4000 words. Since its co-founding by Tamura Lomax and Hortense Spillers in January 2010 and subsequent leadership by Tamura and her co-managing editors Monica J. Casper and Darnell L. MooreTFW has always gone deep beneath the surface with our work, most especially our online forums.

Since 2012, TFW has conducted multiple forums, allowing our readers to delve deep with TFW collective members and other writers on a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to: PalestineWomen’s Filmmakers Muslim Feminisms; VotingViolence Black (Academic) Women’s Health; World AIDS Day; Masculinities; Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism;Assata Shakur and the Black Radical Tradition; the Aftermath of the (George Zimmerman) Trial;Feminist Theory: A College Forum Love As A Radical Act; Disabilities; Mass Incarceration and the Prison-Industrial Complex in honor of and featuring Mumia Abu-Jamal; Audre Lorde; Toni Cade Bambara; Climate Change and Feminist Environmentalisms; Campus Violence, Resistance, and Strategies for SurvivalShout Your Abortion; and June Jordan. The #LoveWITHAccountability forum is a part of TFW’s radical continuum.

There are very few, if any, online publications that provide the in-depth left of center, radical, multi-racial, pro-reproductive justice, pro-LGBTQ, anti-imperialist, anti-white supremacist feminist writings that The Feminist Wire has consistently provided for free. This volunteer work of curating, writing, editing, and publishing is almost always completed in our second and third shifts after working jobs, partnering, parenting, and/or, for many of us, being engaged activists for social change in our societies and in the world. I did not call upon support from my dear TFW comrades-friends until it was time to publish the forum because this was the first time that, thanks to funding received from the Just Beginnings Collaborative, I could solely focus on the forum work all day and every day. With that shared, Heather TurcotteTamura LomaxHeidi R. LewisHeather Laine TalleyMonica J. CasperTC TolbertJoe Osmundson, and TFW’s Editorial Interns Jazlynn Andrews and Angela Kong each played important roles with the publication of the forum. There’s the literal work of uploading, copy editing, resizing of photos, tagging, and hyperlinking. Then there are the personal extended texts, emails, and voicemail messages to check in and consistently send love and emotional support along the way that underscores the TFW community building that many of us work hard to sustain through the cyberwaves in the midst of it all.

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My sister-friend C. Nicole Mason reminded me that I do not walk on water and my well-being would be at stake if I tried to do everything including promoting the forum. She connected me with two incredible Black women who helped me with creating the visuals for my work. Kathryn Bowser created the gorgeous #LoveWITHAccountability logos. Maura Chanz and her company Glitter and Hustle handled all of #LoveWITHAccountability’s social media sites. She created the beautiful images that brought some of Aunrika’s research to visual life. Maura also lifted excerpts from each of the contributors’ words to create beautiful collages with their images. The website was designed by my dear friend Jennifer Patterson who five years ago played a pivotal role with igniting my journey to address my own child sexual abuse.

Sister Valerie Ann Johnson invited me to participate in the Africana Women’s Studies’ inaugural “Heal the Healer” week-long residency at Bennett College. The residency unexpectedly coincided with the second week of the forum, which turned out to be a gift. My time at Bennett College was a much needed respite in the company of sistren, and for that I am most appreciative.

There aren’t any words that will articulate the depth of my deep gratitude and love for each of the individual twenty-nine #LoveWITHAccountability forum contributors who trusted me enough to take this public journey with me. It wasn’t easy for most of the contributors. Everyone’s plates were already full and yet, they accepted my invitation to revisit excruciatingly painful experiences in their lives and envision what accountability for child sexual abuse can look like. Despite my huge ask without a lot of time to reflect, re-member, process, write, and publicly share, they pushed through to participate. Their commitment to this forum is powerful commentary on their unanimity that we must break the silence and address child sexual violence in our diasporic communities.

The forum contents are listed below in chronological order.  There are over twenty-five individual archived road maps from which readers can explore and decide which routes, if any, resonate with part of their journeys.

The movement to end child sexual abuse is not a one size fits all movement. #LoveWITHAccountability is a call to action that doesn’t end with this forum, as there are many more road maps in multiple communities.

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Publication Timeline for #LoveWITHAccountability forum:

  1. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Digging Up the Roots: An Introduction to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum
  2. Chevara Orrin, Soul Survivor: Reimagining Legacy
  3. Danielle Lee Moss, Ed.D,  Love Centered Accountability
  4. Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, How I Built Community While Researching Accountability
  5. Ahmad Greene-Hayes, “The Least of These”: Black Children, Sexual Abuse, and Theological Malpractice
  6. Kai M. Green, Ph.D., Fast
  7. e nina jay, a place to live
  8. Thema Bryant-Davis, Ph.D., Our Silence Will Not Save Us: Considering Survivors and Abusers
  9. Adenike A. Harris and Peter J. Harris, [VIDEO] Pops’nAde: a Courageous Daughter & Her NonAbusive Father on Loving Lessons, Living Legacies (L)earned after Sexual Violence
  10. Worokya Duncan, Ed.D.,  Unfinished
  11. Zoe Flowers, Violation and Making The Road By Walking It
  12. Ignacio G. Rivera, Accountability to Ourselves and Our Children
  13. Tashmica Torok, Casting Aspersions
  14. Cyree Jarelle Johnson, Social Silence & Child Sexual Abuse
  15. Alicia Sanchez Gill, A Network of Care
  16. MiKeiya Morrow, We need Speak7 because Black Children Matter and Child Sexual Abuse Thrives in Silence!
  17. Liz S. Alexander, In My Mother’s Name: Restorative Justice for Survivors of Incest
  18. Tonya Lovelace Sunset: Seeking True Accountability After All of These Years
  19. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., Oh, to Be Free Again: Love, Accountability & Bodily Integrity in Response to Child Sexual Abuse
  20. Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D., The Coiled Spring First Grader Deep Inside: Sexual Violence and Restorative Justice
  21. Cecelia Falls, Self Love with Accountability
  22. Loretta J. Ross, Paying it Forward Instead of Looking Backwards
  23. Qui Dorian Alexander, Thoughts on Discipline, Justice, Love and Accountability: Redefining Words to Reimagine Our Realities
  24. Kimberly Gaubault, Safe Space: The Language of Love
  25. Thea Matthews, activist, poet, prison abolitionist, human rights advocate, incest and rape survivor
  26. Kebo Drew, It's the Whispers
  27. Ferentz Lafargue, Ph.D., On Moving Forward
  28. Luz Marquez-Benbow, Who is Accountable to the Black Latinx Child?
  29. Lynn Roberts, Ph.D., Becoming Each Other’s Harvest
  30. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, LOVE WITH ACCOUNTABILITY: A Mother's Lament & A Daughter's Postscript
  31. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, "It Takes A Village": the Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability forum

May we all envision and work diligently to co-create a world without violence for the future generations…


Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian incest and rape survivor, award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, and activist. She is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, where she is also affiliated with the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. She is the creator of the film NO! The Rape Documentary and the #LoveWITHAccountability project. An associate editor of The Feminist Wire, Aishah has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. You can follow both #LoveWITHAccountability and Aishah on twitter @loveaccountably and @Afrolez.

LOVE WITH ACCOUNTABILITY: A Mother’s Lament & A Daughter’s Postscript by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons

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 Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons

A Mother’s Lament

My name is Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and I am the mother of my only child/daughter, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who was sexually molested by her (step)grandfather from when she was 10 until she was 12years old. When Aishah told me that her grandfather was sexually molesting her, I did not believe her. I told her that she was having a bad dream and that her beloved Pop-pop would never do anything like that.  He presented as an upstanding family man, hard worker, proud provider for his wife, Aishah’s grandmother, who he loved dearly and tenderly cared for. My daughter’s grandmother had a lingering illness and did not work outside the home.  She doted on Aishah, her “Pie” as she called her. For her, the sun rose and shined on Aishah. The feeling was mutual between the two of them; my daughter loved her grandmother dearly; I thought more than she loved me and I was a bit jealous of their relationship at times.

But I also felt so fortunate that my daughter had grandparents who cherished her and I felt that she was SAFE staying with them when I had to be out of town for long stretches due to my job which had me traveling across the country and sometimes internationally during the course of my work. Ineeded my daughter’s grandparents’ home to be SAFE so that I could travel and work without worrying about her well-being, knowing that she was loved and PROTECTED by both grandparents (or so I thought).

For my daughter to tell me that her grandfather was sneaking into her bedroom, late at night, and was touching and feeling her vagina and forcing her to kiss him in the basement were  monstrous acts beyond my imagination.  It could not possibly be true, I thought.  It was he who drove me, Aishah and her father home from the hospital after her birth. He carried her in his arms as her father wheeled me to the car in a wheelchair. I did not believe it! I told her so.  If it were true, massive changes had to occur; changes that would disrupt my life.  I hoped that it was just a bad dream and that the matter would go away. Oh how I wanted/needed it to go away!

It did not go away! My daughter insisted that this was happening. When I would question her about the facts, she would be perplexed about why I didn’t believe her and cry hysterically. I finally began to believe her but I did not know what to do. While I was becoming outraged at the possibility that my daughter was being sexually violated by her grandfather, disgracefully, I was also concerned about what would happen to my job if she could not stay with her grandparents when I had to be on the road. Her father and I were separated at that time and I had serious doubts about leaving Aishah in his care for extended periods of time because of our ideological differences about child rearing. The issue of how to raise Aishah was the one big contention between her dad and me and unfortunately, this possibly played a role in my inaction during Aishah’s ordeal at the hands of her grandfather.

I told her dad that Aishah’s grandfather, his stepfather, was coming into her bedroom late at night and sexually molesting her.  He, too, did not believe it, saying that there was no way his stepdad would do anything like this. I shared that I, too, had not believed it initially but that Aishah was so insistent that it was not a dream, that she was not making it up; that I now believed it was true. I said that we had to do something to stop it, but what?  As noted above, Aishah’s father and I had been separated for several years. He was also dependent on his parents providing child care for our daughter when either one of us was on the road. As a busy international human rights activist and labor organizer, he also traveled a lot. Also, as I mentioned, his mother had a serious illness and was totally dependent on her husband for her comfortable life style and the excellent health insurance (via his job) that provided the doctors who, we all believed, were keeping her alive.  Aishah’s dad kept saying it would kill his mother to tell her that her husband was sexually molesting her granddaughter and that we had to keep it a secret from her AT ALL COSTS!

What is so outrageous about my and Aishah’s dad’s behavior was that we were equally, if not more concerned, it seems in retrospect, about his mother’s wellbeing,my jobhis jobour Movement work and our reliance on them for childcare than we were about the tremendous harm being done to our daughter!

After much hang wringing and discussion, Aishah’s father said he would speak to his stepfather, warn him that we knew and tell him that he had better never touch her again. I agreed to this plan. Later, I was told that this conversation had occurred. What I find shocking and shameful about my behavior is that I made myself content with this and never spoke to her grandfather myself. I am dismayed that I did not confront him myself, me the activist referred to as an Amazon by some of my male SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) comrades because I instituted one of the only sexual harassment policies on a project in Laurel, Mississippi that I directed during the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964 when I was barely twenty:

Everyone on my project had to go through an orientation that included a segment on sexual abuse and were told that they would be exposed and dismissed if they committed such crimes. As a result of that I became known as an Amazon and many of my SNCC male comrades refused to work on the project…”[1]

I have been the victim of sexual assault on several occasions and risked life and limb to stop these attempted rapes: Firstly, from my Morehouse “Brothers” while a student at Spelman College. I had also fought off a high Nigerian Official who was on a State Department Tour of the Country, I helped to host as a Spelman student. The most terrifying attempted sexual assault and battering was by one of the first African American Football Players with a major NFL Team, the Houston Oilers during my years at Spelman. He also tried to run me down with his car after I escaped from his cluthches. The most painful of all sexual assault attempts I endured was from a fellow SNCC “Comrade,” who I had to fight off at the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project Orientation in Oxford, Ohio. This was by someone I admired and trusted as Aishah had admired and trusted her grandfather. But even more painful than the actual attempted rape by a SNCC comrade, was that when I reported him to a SNCC official, I was told that they (SNCC Leadership) did not have time to deal with atrivial matter such as this. Adding insult to injury, I was told: “Why are you making such a fuss; you should have given him some!”  I cried myself to sleep that night and a few nights after as I now had to add worry about being raped by a fellow comrade in addition to dogging bullets from Klansmen and other white racists who had vowed to kill all of us who were going to Mississippi that summer.

In spite of having endured these sexual assaults, I, in reality, did nothing to SAVE my daughter from being sexually molested in her grandparents’ home by a family member, someone I thought she was SAFE with.  WHY? This is a question I cannot answer to this very day. It troubles me deeply that I cannot explain my inaction.

Additionally, Aishah’s father and I agreed that he was supposed to spend nights at her grandparents’ home when our daughter stayed overnight, which was often, to act as a deterrent to any additional molestation. I’m not sure that this plan was adhered to. Yet, I continued traveling for my job, leaving Aishah there while deluding myself into believing that the situation was taken care of.

This was a LIE!  It was not taken care of. Yes, my life went on as usual as did Aishah’s dad’s. The only person left to suffer in fear and anguish year after year was, Aishah! What happened to her, and her dad’s and my inaction has haunted her and my relationship for thirty-seven years!  Aishah has had to struggle without my understanding and support for what happened to her beyond the molestation for almost four decades.  This is because what is even more outrageous than my not intervening directly with Pop-pop, is that her father and I expected her to continue to go to her grandparents’ home, sleep in that same bedroom where she was molested, help out with her grandmother’s care after she developed Altzheimer’s , spending days and nights with the man who molested her for two-years, for three decades after the sexual violation!

Oh, yes, I apologized after she began to lash out at me for leaving her there all those years and for tacitly expecting her to function with her grandfather as if nothing had happened long after he stopped sexually molesting her. As far as Aishah knew, neither her dad nor I had done ANYTHING!  On the surface nothing had changed between us and him. As far as she knew we had done nothing to end the nightmare, nor was he publicly or privately censured in any way for his crime, by me.

For these decades, I could not understand why Aishah could not “just get over it!” I was in denial about the great harm that had been done during and long after the actual molestations took place. There was the great harm of Aishah’s father and me acting normal around this man. Never letting on to other family members that he was not as he appeared, but was someone who caused our daughter great harm, who we were protecting for our own selfish reasons. To add insult to injury, we expected our daughter to keep it a secret; to never tell her grandmother (it would kill her we kept repeating over and over!) nor all of the other family members who regularly gathered to celebrate birthdays and holidays over these three decades.  We acted as if all was normal! I never understood the tremendous harm I was inflicting on my daughter. What is worse, I never thought about what she must be going through at all those parties, dinners and gatherings held there. We wanted her to put it behind her; to forget about it; to not upset the happy family. I did not understanduntil less than three months ago why Aishah was still angry with me; why our relationship was so troubled.  I was oblivious to the fact that the harm continued way beyond the two years she was being actively molested.

As a Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Human Rights Activist, I am shocked and ashamed of myself.  I am ashamed that I let my only child, a woman child, suffer all these years in silence.  I am ashamed that I did NOTHING, really, to take her out of the horrible situation she endured during and long after the molestations occurred by wanting her to keep QUIET; to keep it SECRET! To go their regularly and act as if nothing had happened. I don’t know how I did this!  I am just now admitting and coming to terms with my INACTION with this GREAT EVIL that I covered up and expected Aishah to cover up!  I am just – thirty-seven years later – coming to terms with the terrible spiritual, psychic, emotional and physical toll that this has taken on Aishah for almost four decades.  I am just now becoming ACCOUNTABLE to her for the LOVE I have always proclaimed that I have for her, my daughter.

I am so sad about the overt and covert harm that I caused my only child.  I am grateful that in spite of this great harm I have caused, Aishah has persevered, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes and held me ACCOUNTABLE for my silence and cover up of a monstrous evil.  She has broken silences with her film NO! The Rape Documentary,  with her numerous published writings in print and online, her national and international lectures, workshops, and now, her project#LoveWITHAccountability, I can only pray that she forgives me and that I continue to learn from her example, her writings and the personal experiences she shares with me on how a parent should act when their child is sexually abused:

First and foremost: Believe Her! (or Him) Check it out! Confront the perpetrator

Secondly: Remove her/him from the site of the molestation and do not make the child continue to go there and act as if everything is normal!

Thirdly: Charge the perpetrator with the crime to family members and possibly the authorities unless he/she makes amends, especially within the family unit!

Fourthly: Get professional help for your child, other family members and yourself!

I am proud of and salute Aishah’s work to stop this horrible scourge of sexual violence against girls and women that is a pandemic mbers in this country and around the world. Thank Goddess and Gods, Aishah is silent NO More.

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A Daughter’s Postscript

After talking extensively with my mother in response to my deep feelings of unexplained irrational guilt about a one-sided view of my grandfather in her “peace,” we both agreed that I should write a postscript.

What happened to me as a 10-12 year old child was egregious and it became horrific because nothing was ever done. My grandfather is definitely guilty of sexually molesting me for a period of two years. However, he is not the only one who caused me severe harm. As my mother shared, I told her about my molestation while it has happening. Initially she didn’t (want to) believe me but ultimately, she eventually told my dad. They were bystanders who never did anything. I was left to navigate my way by myself as a child who became an adult.

This is not the sum total of who Pop-pop (my grandfather) was or who my parents were and are. Up until writing my “Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric[2] Silence Breaker”chapter in Jennifer Patterson‘s edited anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, I only wrote about my parents in glowing terms without ever exposing their contradictions. They are both prominently featured in my film NO!. My father is also the celebrated subject in my short video In My Father’s House, which is about his unwavering support of my lesbian coming out process. For me, my life is about the profound contradictions and deep complexities.

Nana (my grandmother) wasn’t ever told what her husband did to me. She was my closest confidante up until my first year in college when she began the initial stages of developingAlzheimer’s disease. I didn’t tell her and neither did her son, my father, or her ex-daughter in law, my mother. If it weren’t  for her husband, my Pop-pop, Nana would’ve been in a nursing home when she developed Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the fact that she was mentally unaware of her current reality, her husband was her literal savior, and simultaneously, he was my terrorist when I was a defenseless 10-12 year old girl. What would it have meant for my parents to hold him accountable? Would he have admitted to his molesting me? Would my grandmother have believed me?

I will never know those answers.

Throughout my twenties and my very early thirties, during my grandmother’s demise, my grandfather became the celebrated hero for being a dedicated and committed husband who carried the lion’s share of his wife’s care. In my eyes, he was the flawed hero whose painful contradictionswere only acknowledged in private when I brought them up with my parents.

After over a decade of living with Alzheimer’s disease, Nana only spent the last three days of her life in the hospital prior to her becoming an ancestor. This is because of my grandfather’s unwavering commitment to his wife. It was during her most unconscious state in her hospital room in late December 2001 that I laid my head in her lap and sobbed. I finally told her what I never could tell her when she was conscious and alert.

Without ANY hesitation, I celebrated my grandfather for ALL that he did for his wife when I wrote and delivered Nana’s eulogy at her funeral. After her burial in December 2001, I continued to lovingly engage with my grandfather until shortly after I played a pivotal role in saving his life nine years later in March 2010. It was then that the weight of a mask  that I wore for 31-years almost suffocated me. I began taking the steps to yank it off and destroy it.

I was angry because the assumption was that I should “be there” for my grandfather during his critical time of need. And while I was there and I believe would do it again, I could no longer accept this inadvertent belief that I must sacrifice myself for the man who terrorized me and  the man and woman who allowed it to happen. That was no longer acceptable.

To my father’s credit, he said, “Okay.” He didn’t make me feel guilty about my decision. He supported it. Without any input from me, he also believed it was his responsibility to tell both my aunt and my cousin (her daughter) the reasons why I completely disappeared from any and all activity connected to my grandfather’s care. My grandfather became an ancestor in February 2011 and after much thought and deliberation, I did not attend his funeral.[3]

How do I heal from 37-years of intentional and inadvertent denial from two beloved people, my divorced parents, who did not walk their human rights defending talk when it came to addressing my child sexual molestation?  Since late August 2016, this is the question that my mother and I are experientially learning minute by minute of every single day by day without attachments to the outcome. It is not a parallel journey, but my belief is that my father is also pushing himself to face what feels like the unfaceable. This is our familial version of #LoveWITHAccountability.

End Notes

[1] NO! The Rape Documentary. Aishah Shahidah Simmons. AfroLez® Productions, 2006. DVD.

[2] Coined in 1990, by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, AfroLez®femcentric defines the culturally conscious role of Black women who identify as Afrocentric, Lesbian, and Feminist.

[3] Simmons, Aishah Shahidah. “Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric[2] Silence Breaker.”Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, Ed. Jennifer Patterson. New York: Avalon 2016. Page 31. Print.


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Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer of African American Studies and Religion at the University of Florida. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from Temple University. Her primary academic focus is on Islam with a specific focus on Islamic Law and its impact on Muslim women. She conducted research in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Syria on the Shari’ah’s impact on women, and the contemporary women’s movements in those countries to change these laws while on Fulbright and USAID Fellowships.

She currently teaches Courses on Islam, Women and Islam,Modern Islamic Thought, African American Religious traditionsand Race Religion and Rebellion.  Her manuscript, Muslim Feminism: A Call for Reform is under review and she is under contract with The New Press, for  ISLAM does not equal FUNDAMENTALISM.  She has published several articles including: “From Little Memphis Girl to Mississippi Amazon,” in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCC, Holsaert, Norman et al (eds.) University of Illinois Press; “Martin Luther King Revisited: A Black Power Feminist Pays Homage to the King,” in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; “Striving for Muslim Women’s Rights—Before and Beyond Beijing: An African American Perspective” in: Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists of North America.  G. Webb (ed.), Syracuse University Press 2000; “Are We Up To The Challenge?  The Need For a Radical Re-Ordering Of The Islamic Discourse On Women” in: Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. O. Safi (ed.) London: One World Press 2003); and others.

In addition to her academic and spiritual studies she has a long history in the area of civil rights, human rights and peace work. For 23 years, Simmons was on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace, justice, human rights, and international development organization.  During her early adult years, Simmons was active with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), becoming active during the Sit-Ins as a student at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. This involvement led to her leaving college to work full time with SNCC in the summer of 1964 as a volunteer in the historic Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. She is the recipient of the Gainesville, Florida’s 2010 Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Award, the co-recipient, with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, of the  Scarritt-Bennett Center’s 2010 Ann L. Reskovac Courage Award,  and the Gainesville Commission on Women’s 2011 International Women’s Human Rights Award. She is featured in the internationally acclaimed award-winning  NO! The Rape Documentary by her daughter Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and the award-winning PBS Documentaries This Far By Faith by Valerie Linson and Freedom Summer by Stanley Nelson.


Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian incest and rape survivor, award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, and activist. She is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, where she is also affiliated with the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. She is the creator of the film NO! The Rape Documentary and the #LoveWITHAccountability project. An associate editor of The Feminist Wire, Aishah has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. You can follow both #LoveWITHAccountability and Aishah on twitter @loveaccountably and @Afrolez.

On Moving Forward by Ferentz Lafargue

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 Ferentz Lafargue

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One of the many conversations with my editor prior to the publication of my 2007 memoir, Songs in the Key of My Life, that sticks out is an exchange about what the book’s publication might mean for the person who sexually assaulted me when I was a child. I had not said this until that point, but as the public disclosure of my status as a survivor of childhood sexual assault neared, I had begun visualizing how my memoir’s debut might facilitate getting justice against my assailant.

Visions of court deliberations, depositions with lawyers began persistently loitering in my mind. In these dreams, we were on equal footing, and I was forced to consider whether I was prepared to go forward with facing him for the first time in two decades. Then, just as swiftly as this possibility had overtaken my life, it disappeared when my editor reminded me that fewer than 3% of sexual abusers are ever imprisoned.

While I had long been aware of this statistic, for some reason I thought that at this point in my life, the outcome might be different—after all I was no longer a child hoping someone would believe me; I was now an adult, a well-educated professional—my word would be as good as his.

Years later, I still think back to that moment, not simply just the conversation with my editor, but rather that moment in time when I had steeled myself for the inevitable pivot toward justice and my assailant being held accountable for his abuse.

The questions that recollections of this period in time conjure are essentially the same ones that I was asked when approached about contributing to this series:

  • What does accountability look like when tackling child sexual abuse (CSA)?
  • Can we have accountability around CSA without punitive justice?
  • What does restorative and transformative justice look like to you?

Accountability looks like healthy families and communities. Accountability does not begin after any abuse has been perpetrated, but rather before anything happens. For example, I remember looking on in awe a few years ago as a friend spoke to her toddler daughter about not letting people touch her unwillingly. More to the point, I was taken aback by how deliberate she was in using the word “vagina.” Later when I asked her about this exchange with her daughter, she told me that being frank in reference to her child’s body was one of steps she was taking toward stemming the long history of child sexual abuse that had long infested her family.

My partner and I are similarly direct with our children, making sure to refer to their body parts by their correct names. We refrain from indirect or infantilizing references to their bodies. For example, we do not tell the boys to clean their “wee wees” in the shower. Instead, it is “wash your penis.” By modeling for them that we are not afraid of discussing their bodies, we are empowering them with templates to do the same. Therefore, in treating them as sole proprietors of their bodies, we are helping frame their interactions with others around their bodies so that they may be better equipped to fend off would be abusers.

That said, parenting strategies aren’t foolproof nor is the existence of sexual abusers indicative of familial failings. The intersection of personal and social responsibility in this matter is particularly fraught in large part because there is a greater struggle to effectively articulate and acknowledge that sexual predators are in our midst and, in some cases, in our own homes. And not unlike other areas of the criminal justice system, what constitutes a transgression worthy of being included in a sex offenders registry is wildly inconsistent.

As a staunch opponent of mass incarceration, I loathe advocating for imprisonment in most instances and sex crimes are no different. Therefore, a multifaceted counseling strategy is, in my view, the strongest resource to curbing child sexual abuse. I would include quality sex and general health education as a form of counseling because schools and curricula shape individual and communal behavior. Again, it is important for young people to learn as early as possible that sex is not something to be ashamed of or to be kept secret. Moreover, incorporating teaching about mental and emotional health in schools will help everyone learn throughout their lifetimes how to process and articulate what is happening in their lives, and more specifically, what is happening to them. Expanding knowledge about healthy practices will not only lessen the likelihood that individuals might commit crimes, but it may also increase awareness around unacceptable behavior for young people.

Additionally, removing the threat of prison is also likely to bolster odds that victims and their families come forward and challenge abusers. The prospect of losing a relative to incarceration, especially when that person is possibly a breadwinner or contributes to the household in another significant capacity is daunting for many victims and their families.

Lastly, as presently constituted, most prisons and jails in this country do not have the staff and other resources to effectively rehabilitate criminals. American prisons for the most part are devoid of counseling services capable of providing ongoing support for inmates. Re-entry programs also lack the necessary staffing to facilitate mediation between assailants and their victims, a service that is vitally needed, given that many victims were likely abused by either a relative or another person close to their family.

In my estimation, restorative and transformative justice are systems tilted toward protecting victims, helping make them whole after they have been abused, and creating safeguards that will diminish the likelihood that assailants can continue abusing others. Restorative and transformative justice prioritizes ensuring that victims feel comfortable coming forward once abused, and that assailants receive necessary counseling that will enable them to see and acknowledge the harm caused by their actions and to help prevent them from recommitting these forms of violence.

A decade after that conversation with my editor I still occasionally reflect on whether I should be doing more to bring the person who abused me to justice. It has been well over twenty years since he and I last saw each other and I do not have any idea as to his whereabouts. Years ago when a person from the neighborhood where I grew up befriended me on Facebook, I would cull through their friends list in search for clues as to what might have become of my abuser. Nothing ever materialized. These days, I find myself less engaged in trying to track him down and more focused on ensuring that my own children have the necessary tools to avoid the kind of harm I suffered. I do not believe that justice has been served, but I do believe that I am using the pain and anguish I suffered to transform the prospects for future generations of my family.


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Ferentz Lafargue, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at the Catholic University of America (CUA), and author of the memoir Songs in the Key of My Life.  Ferentz’s writing has appeared inThe Washington Post,  215mag,Americas Quarterly, The Huffington Post, Next American City, Social Science Research Council , Social Text: Periscope, and the inaugural issue of Bronx Biannual (Akashic Books 2006).

It’s the Whispers by T. Kebo Drew

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 T. Kebo Drew

I have started and stopped and rearranged this piece of writing dozens of times. Once I began to write, memories came back from the place where I forget things, where I had dismissed them.

It is no small irony that I am also a history buff who has read residential school stories, slave narratives, and the coded language of slaver diary entries, abolition articles, legal opinions of the day and newspaper adverts.

And so I write this first: racism and white supremacy, slavery and colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism are built on the exploitation of people, their labor and their bodies. This crushing weight rests on the horror of sexual violence perpetrated against children of color, particularly for our Native and Indigenous cousins throughout the Americas, and for Black people as a whole.

I have a memory from when my family lived in Mexico so I must have been around 4 years old. My mother was cooking in the kitchen and I hid around the corner with my father playing a game with her. Every so often, he would send me into the kitchen to smack my mother’s bottom with both my hands. I would run back to him and giggle. After a few rounds, the ever-presented music playing in the background changed, and I think that my father said something about slow dancing. I remember clearly that my mother said, “not until she is 30.”

The twin roots of sexual violence, from outside of and within the Black community, are entwined together in both my maternal and paternal family trees. Every so often a branch starts from a woman whose name is known and an often unknown, and more often unnamed, white man. When my maternal great-grandmother was 13, 14, or 15, as the story goes, her father, who was himself the son of an enslaved woman and a white doctor that recognized him as a son, told her to “go see about that white man.” The fact that she was a girl herself was of little consequence because the family needed to eat, and “that” white man had resources. My grandfather, and to hear tell, his brother/cousin born from my great-grandmother’s younger sister, were born of these transactions. There are multiple stories on both sides of my family about a distant relative from generations ago, who marries a woman who already has a young girl child. Then, after many children together, his wife dies, and he marries his step-daughter and starts another family. Long before my great-grandmother bore a son from that white man, her older half-sister later became her stepmother.

There are whispers, so faint they are like wind and when I turn to listen they seem to disappear: the elder losing memory, who when talking about the life of a grown man that has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager, and does not form friendships with other men except his cousins, tells the story of the man as a four-year-old boy who said “that woman touched him.” To hear tell, we’re the third generation of queer Black kids and there is a story known only to us. In our parents’ generation there was a cousin, who was very Butch, or possibly Transgender, who was murdered after an attempted rape. There are the whispers of my paternal grandfather and how he treated one of my aunts, to which my own father most likely said, “well, he was an alcoholic.” There are whispers of my maternal grandparents, who learned of the preacher’s intentions toward my then 13-year-old aunt, who not only changed churches, but completely changed denominations.

It wasn’t until I began to start the healing process from my own experiences that I understood that I was looking at a tree full of sexual violence, watered with degradation and fed on blood. I was rocked into the ground, looking at the roots so very close to my own grave. It was clear that there was a continuum that connected me to my great-grandmother, the women of my family, and other Black women.

I have kept my own stories locked down, diminished. I only recently began to see my experiences as child sexual abuse.

After I was born, my parents left the South, left Memphis, for big cities like Chicago, where my brother was born, and then New York. My father would allow me to walk my big dog down the streets of Manhattan, and Rochester. He said that he watched over me as I walked, but that didn’t stop all the calls from the Black men on porches from inviting me to sit in their laps and give them some sugar. Something kept me from going to them, and to this day I don’t know what it was.

We moved to Mexico, a place that Black folks have escaped to since the 1800s for freedom and a break from the specific flavor of racism endemic to the U.S. My parents and so many other Black people where following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Catlett and Audre Lorde to find space to breathe. At one point, we lived in a big house that belonged to the rich son of a Nation of Islam leader, full of activists, hippies, and students.

There was the time that my father left my younger brother and me in a car to wait for him. He went into an apartment building and was gone from day to dark. I had forgotten which door my father went into, and my brother had to go to the bathroom. We weren’t to disturb him, whatever his was doing, drugs, drug deals or a woman. Eventually police officers noticed us and we were taken to the station, where someone recognized these little dark children and took us home. My mother didn’t know about that for 30 years. By the time we left when I was 6, I had learned to lie for my father, and keep secrets, especially anything having to do with sex.

My brother and I were separated from our parents for about 6 months because of police violence against my father. We went to Memphis to stay with our extended family, where there were games that the kids played with the determination of adults. When we were all reunited at our new home in Oregon, there was the little girl who insisted that she wanted to “go down” on me because she was going to show me what people did in bed. I did not know how to say no, and I did not know what to say or who I should tell. I knew how to keep a secret. A secret about the white men on the streets of the very white college town where we lived, who would call me over to their cars, and masturbate in front of me until I could gather my thoughts and run away. About the white man who saw my neighbor friend and I playing in the upper branches of a tree in the park. Who climbed up, reclined on the branches just below and took himself out. We jumped down so far and ran, and he stole all of the allowance money we have saved up. One night, when a white woman came banging on the door at home, saying she had been thrown into a van by two men and attacked. I don’t remember all of what was said, I think that she was raped. I could not talk about it with anyone, because that was one of the nights my father had his mistress over. I might have been 9 years of age. I remember feeling weary and older, much, much older.

By then, my parent’s marriage was so horrible that I prayed for a divorce. I became my father’s girl between my mother, and his mistress. I had already learned very early to take care of my father’s emotional needs. I became his confidant and his witness. I did not feel special. I knew about his relationships. I knew about his porn stash. I knew which women were attractive. I had heard him having sex with his mistress. On those days and nights that my mother was working, my brother and I were “with” him, so he couldn’t be with anyone else. Sometimes my father would take me on long drives alone with him so that he could talk, and once he told me to choose. That my brother would stay with our mother, and his mistresses’ son would stay with her, but I was the one to decide where “we”, him and I, should go. All I remember is my hot cheek pressed against the window of his truck with the cold rain falling outside. There was a level of constant forced emotional intimacy where there was no room for my own instincts, feelings, and development. At the same time, I was going through an early puberty. I was awkward, chubby and strong, with an intellectual understanding of human sexuality. I liked to read and I would look up any mention of lesbian in the library card catalogue. I felt mature and much older than I was, but emotionally I was like a 10-year-old, because I was in fact 10 years old.

When men my father hung out with said that I would make a good wife, he said that I would remain a virgin like my hair. He would joke about the kinds of men who needed to rape women because they weren’t handsome enough to have women come to them. I felt like an embarrassment to my father because I was not beautiful like my mother, or the kind of women that he found attractive. With my twinned family trees I got the wide hips and the thick thighs, I wasn’t shapely with a nice figure at all. He did not know what to do with this strange, quiet girl. The combination of my maturing body and the emotional closeness I had with my father, led people to ask if I was his girlfriend when they saw us together. He would laugh that off every time.

I was incredibly timid, hyperaware of everyone, and ashamed of my body. My father knew this because there were no secrets from him. Sometimes my body would become the subject of adult discussion, and his jokes. Often I would feel that I was being watched. I would have these bolts of intense feeling in my body, I thought that I was embarrassed that someone was looking at me. It was only later, in the few times in my adult life when I have actually felt attracted to someone, that I recognized it as desire, and not my own. As a result, I felt emotionally raw and physically exposed all of the time. I took to wearing clothes that covered me, my fat body, and my ugliness, completely. It was visceral, instinctual. To this day, when I feel emotionally manipulated or “screwed” over, I actually feel it in my genitals.

By the time that my parents separated, and we moved away, my father still had a strong emotional hold over me. He would manipulate me over the phone to get back at my mother, and every time she cried it was for something he told me to do. By that time, I was 12 and my brother had a little friend who would say every day, “hey, let’s gang bang your sister.” My brother would always say “no” and keep playing, doing what 10-year-old Black boys do. The distance from my father was a relief, but it didn’t stop the comments from boys and teenagers. They either said that I was fat and ugly (as my father alluded to without saying it outright). Or, like the Black boy in middle school who came from behind me and put his hands in the pockets of my corduroys, drawing the anger of our Black woman teacher because she thought that I was fast. It didn’t stop men either. Like the time I was sitting on the living room floor at my own house during a backyard bbq, when a white man, a guest of a family friend, started talking to me. I was mostly invisible in my life, shy and full of social anxiety. I happily answered all of his questions, although some of his comments went over my head. I didn’t show that I didn’t understand (because my father explained his disappointment at my failings), because I was so grateful for the attention that seemed to be about me. So when my mother came in like a cold storm telling the man, “she’s only 12!”, I was confused, then ashamed because of my own ugliness and his sexual intentions.

I thought that my father was an expert gas-lighter like his siblings, and a garden-variety narcissist as a result of childhood physical abuse and PTSD as a war veteran.  This was how I diminished my own experience. For years, when people asked me about our relationship, I would say that it was uncomfortable or inappropriate. I never mentioned the level of emotional intimacy and the sexual undercurrent, because he didn’t touch me physically. Since his death 3 years ago, I learned words for the whispers and secrets that had bound me so tightly to my father, emotional incest, like strong shiny ribbons that bruise the skin and break it bloody. Along with the sexual myths about Black girls and teenagers, it was a nearly lethal combination.

Now I believe that it is a consequence and an irony of emotional incest, that what started the break from my father, was being drugged and gang raped by a group of young white men when I was 15. What I clearly remember of that night is that I once again felt grateful that anyone wanted to talk with me, and give me attention. I had never even held hands romantically with a boy or girl my age. So after I drank the water they gave me, and the first boy kissed me, I remember feeling this sense of wonder. By the time my friends, those 3 white girls who so casually used the word nigger to describe someone’s suntan, left me at the house, their departure was a dim concern. For close to 2 decades after I was gang raped, chronic physical pain and retrograde amnesia meant that I had to freshly relive the rape over and over again each year on the anniversary of that night.

Like my mother said, it was not until I was 30 that I was ready.

I had dismissed the child sexual abuse I experienced because I had blamed my own awkward, pubescent and teenage Black body for what happened to me. I struggled with beliefs that I did not deserve to be loved, that I should be grateful to anyone who could overlook my fat body to touch me with desire, and that I had to give all of my emotional energy and labor to be worthy of any attention. I had sexual relationships with people that I would not have coffee with today. Too often, my sexual desire and romantic attraction, to Black Butches, and Transgender, or cisgender Black men, felt much too much like family and too close to home. I struggled with my genuine love for Black people, emotional intimacy, and reminders of my father. Part of my healing process has been to look what I missed as a child. It is not an exercise in nostalgia but one of love for myself. I pull out memories from the place where I forget things, memories that started before I was born, and memories created yesterday.

Studies of survivors of child sexual abuse show our experiences and risk factors collide make us vulnerable to re-victimization as we get older. In the intervening decades since my childhood, survivor activists have changed the conversation about child sexual abuse. More people are haphazardly teaching children about body safety and consent, particularly from strangers. Yet as children mature and go through puberty, the conversation switches to their raging hormones. And that’s for white children.

Current activism about everything from the school-to-prison pipeline to police violence notes that our Black children are deemed older than we really are, with knowledge we do not have. Myths about our pain threshold, our strength, our assumed criminality and sexual deviance are written on our skin. We learn early to be courageous. We learn quickly to take care of our parents’ emotional needs and be watchful of white people’s feelings. We are taught that our bodies are not our own. We are taught that our emotions are not our own. And because I still like to read, I see studies that note that current rates of rape of Black girls and women, particularly in cities like Chicago and Dallas, is similar to the for rape of Black girls and women ages 15-30 during slavery (West and Johnson).

I fear for Black children now, and I fear for the children we once were.

And so I write this: we as Black people have survived a twisted breaking of souls and relationships, and child sexual abuse is a part of our history, our community, and our every day lives.

Love with accountability means that we need to understand age-appropriate intellectual, emotional, and sexual development for Black children, including teenagers. It means not simply praying for the lives of our children, and claiming that we protect them through control of their bodies and emotions, which leaves them more vulnerable. It means that we champion the wholeness of their bodies and their sovereignty over their own souls. We need to act on the entwined roots of sexual violence against Black people, from outside of and within our own community, by focusing on Black children and ending childhood sexual abuse. If we can protect the most vulnerable, small, soft and quiet beings, among us, then we can end the violence that consumes us all.


Photo Credit: Leilani Nisperos

Photo Credit: Leilani Nisperos

T. Kebo Drew, CFRE is a filmmaker, writer and dancer, she is the producer and director of Ain’t I A Woman? which has screened at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival and Translations: the Seattle Transgender Film Festival, among many others around the world. She has also produced numerous films, which include Don’t Fence Me In: Major Mary and the Karen Refugees from Burma, which won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary from the 2006 Washington D.C. Independent Film Festival and the Director’s Citation Award from the 2006 Black Maria Film Festival. She got her start at a Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project – QWOCMAP screenwriting workshop in 2001, where she wrote two feature-length screenplays. She has performed in the U.S., Latin America and Europe as a poet and dancer. She is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow and won an Audre Lorde/Pat Parker Award and an Astraea Emerging Lesbian Writers Award. She also won an Irene Weed Dance Award and Robert Kuykendall Dance Scholarship. Kebo is currently the Managing Director of QWOCMAP, which builds power through film that radically centers our marginalized communities to fundamentally transform the world where justice and equity are the norm. QWOCMAP creates, exhibits, and distributes high-impact films that authentically reflect the lives of queer women of color (cisgender & transgender), gender nonconforming and transgender people of color (of any orientation), and address the vital, intersecting social justice issues that concern our multiple communities. QWOCMAP uses film to shatter stereotypes and bias, build community through compassionate public discussions, and strengthen social justice movements. QWOCMAP is in the second year of its joint Life Healing Project with San Francisco Women Against Rape, which combines Learning Circles and Filmmaking Workshops for LBTQ women of color to address the many forms of violence that impact our lives.

activist, poet, prison abolitionist, human rights advocate, incest and rape survivor by By Thea Matthews

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 Thea Matthews

 

“Field of Lilacs” (please click to listen to audio)

 

Outro to “Field of Lilacs”

– Thea’s Rendition of Love with Accountability–

Love is an enigmatic expression, an undeniable force that reverberates from within and is experienced from without. Love simultaneously empowers the self and who the self interacts with. I specifically remember during my adolescences, deciding to hate myself, blame myself, deny myself (self-)love because of what I was forced to endure early in my life. I subconsciously said, yes, I am willing to hate myself, blame myself, ruin myself, and kill myself because my grandfather and uncle repeatedly sexually assaulted me, and I was forced to play “house” with one of my cousins. The pain was unbearable at times and the suffering seemed unending. My rite of passage was incest. The bullying at school only poured pounds of salt on open infected wounds.

My existence was a gaping hole without a model of what healthy love is, let along what accountability is. After disclosing that my grandfather molested me, I still found myself at my grandparent’s house, seated next to him at the family Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t know if my grandfather, uncle, and cousin molested anyone else. I do know that I am a third-generation survivor of child abuse. My grandmother was abused, my mother was abused, and I was abused. I don’t know much about my great-grandmother, because she died in her early-mid thirties of cervical cancer when my grandmother was only five-years-old. I assume more of my maternal generations were violated and abused in some way.

My grandfather died when I was in high school, and my uncle and cousin disappeared from my life. Last time I saw my cousin, I refused to hug him and he felt so insulted, it incited an atypical dysfunctional family argument with my grandmother. She is close to 90 and she will die not knowing that the love of her life was a child molester, and that one of her sons and grandsons are also child molesters. Where is accountability in that? Well, as I recovered from a suicide attempt in 2011 and as I continue to recover from active addictions and destructive behaviors, I quickly realized that accountability must first and foremost come from within.

Initially, I began demanding accountability from our nation’s police force when I got involved in student protests with the Black Lives Matter movement. The mass killings of unarmed people, the degree of which systemic violence takes place and no one really held responsible provokes anger and directs me to take action. Yet, I realized: if I am to want others to be accountability around me, I must ensure that I am also being held accountable for my actions. What do I have to do to keep my side of street clean? Yes, I was very much a victim. The abuse started when I was preverbal and ended by the time I was 9; the bullying continued until I was 13. My fundamental years of emotional and brain development were robbed. I was robbed from a childhood.

As an individual who identifies themselves as a freedom fighter, an activist, my foundation must be and can only be reinstated with conscious acts of love with accountability. To heal, I do what is essentially described in my poem “Field of Lilacs.” Ritual is highly important to me. Spirituality is my oxygen. My leader is a divine force to be reckoned with, no gunshots can take this entity away. I continuously do a series of actions releasing trauma from my mind, my body, my soul, my spirit.

I don’t need an “apology” from the harm doers in my life to actually heal. I don’t need a pitiful recognition to liberate myself. Amends are actually for the harm doer and their karma; not for me. I need to love myself. I need to be accountable for my actions. I need to ensure that my behavior and actions are transformed. The absolute truth is: I cannot force anyone’s transformation. The revolution has already occurred within me when I almost jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. In order to fiercely love and radically accept what is in the present moment, I am solely responsible for learning and practicing various forms of nonviolent communication. Thus, continuous acts of love with accountability ultimately ensure personal/social/cultural transformation.


Photo Credit: Christina Campbell   

Photo Credit: Christina Campbell

 

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Thea Matthews currently attends UC Berkeley, studying sociology. She has been writing creatively for close to 20 years. Poetry is her healing medium. Regarding her attainment of liberation, she lives her life according to a path based on service, purification, and spiritually based principles one day at a time.

Safe Space: The Language of Love by Kimberly Gaubault

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 Kimberly Gaubault

There is a practice of erasure that happens in traditional Christian church communities.  The systemic erasure of those who carry the weight of having such truths as sexual assault and domestic violence/gender violence forced upon them…those whose understanding of God, love, community and self is often structured around violations against body and spirit…this erasure makes the church a safe space for those who want to avoid the ugly reality that these behaviors and conscious decisions are made (often) by those we trust, in community and spaces we have designated as sacred. We are programmed to embrace spiritual rhetoric that shames and silences those who have been victims of sexual assault (regardless of gender identification).  This same rhetoric is often used to fill the uncomfortable space that exists in communities where sexual assault (primarily during childhood) has occurred.  The use of clichés such as:

 God is good all the time and all the time God is good,

God won’t put more on you than you can bear,

All things work together for the good of them who love the Lord…,

Just pray about it,

and other biblically based phrases and sayings rather than engaging violations and violators head on often discourage victims from speaking out about their abuse/abuser.  It is important that we provide space for these conversations to happen and truths to be shared proactively, with full understanding that there will be discomfort but, through honesty and full disclosure there can also be hope for healing.  To espouse a system of avoidance and silence is to espouse the alienation, physically, and spiritually of those who have been relegated to the margins of the intricate tapestries woven together to form the beloved community. The margins are the spaces that give value to the common space that is shared in the middle ground.  The margins have importance and relevance to the big picture. Childhood sexual assault is too common to be treated as anomaly.  By addressing it, in community, we can open up a space for healing for those living with the shame of being violated as well as those living with the shame of having violated another.  Love calls us to accountability in the ways we form community and responsibility in the ways we maintain it.

On First Times (*Trigger Warning: This is a rape story)

The first time I was raped

the act was not as painful

as the accusation

the implication that

somehow

I must be at fault

almost 29 years later

I remember what I was wearing

as if it were yesterday

I never wore it again

never washed it again

never trusted my mother again

and he was light-skinned

and this was the 80’s so

light-skinned was in

I was nervous

hadn’t seen him before

he thought I was cute

I didn’t believe it

I was dark-skinned

and skinny

and dark

and too Christian

and dark

and big forehead

and dark

and big lips

and dark

too dark to be the right shade

for light-skinned to holla at

I avoided eye contact

straightened my shirt

I remember what I was wearing

my favorite outfit

until that day

I never wore it again

I think I told you that already

I still don’t trust my mother

and she don’t like me

I don’t think she ever has

what was we talking about…oh yeah

he was light-skinned

and I just kept walking

because I’m not supposed to attract boys

this is what causes problems at home

why they calling here?

you don’t need no boyfriends

they calling because you just want to be fast

they only want one thing

don’t bring home no babies

Maybe

I just want to be liked

at home and at school

don’t feel comforted, at 17,

about being a ‘peculiar people’

don’t want to have sex or be sexualized

don’t want to always be so different

all the time

don’t care so much for being the ugly girl at school

all the time

the one who can’t go to no parties cause she in church

all the time

can’t go to no friend’s houses and can’t have them come to mine

all the time

can’t be in marching band because THOSE kids…

feeling left out

all the time

my friend and I

he and I liked to talk

we couldn’t do it in school much because I’m smart

and I don’t go to school to make friends

I go to school to learn

he had to get up the nerve just to call the house

because he knows the chill of ice

even when it’s over a phone line

and even though it’s all related

I digress again…

the first time I was raped

I remember what I was wearing

remember walking home from school

remember walking up the stairs to our apartment

remember being grabbed

I remember being groped

I remember being raped

I remember being raped

I remember trying to convince my mind

that this was not so bad

that if I stayed still long enough

maybe he would get bored and stop

that at least he thought I was cute

that he was light-skinned

and light-skinned was a compliment for dark-skinned

right?

I didn’t scream

didn’t call for help

I remember my body refusing to cooperate

refusing to allow easy penetration

I remember not fighting

not knowing how

and hating all 85 pounds of my lethargic flesh

I remember the silence of the house

how his voice reverberated off the walls of my ears

I remember what I was wearing

my favorite outfit

and believe it or not

it was not the act

but the after

that made it mourning clothes

the “you shouldn’t have been wearing THAT outfit”

that turned it into shroud

and this story was never told

because I was never asked what happened when that guy followed me home

not when I vomited up light-skinned’s touch for 2 days after

not when I was balled over in pain in the wake of light-skinned’s embrace

not when I was being treated for the gift that light-skinned left me

not when I missed a month of school because light-skinned’s visit

required hospitalization

medication

and recovery time

I was never asked why I never wore my favorite outfit again

I was never asked

so I didn’t tell

and 29 years later

I still remember

how we celebrated the healing

but never talked about the hurting

and how the hurting

never fully goes away

© 2016 Kimberly Gaubault (Redefining Freedom)

 


KImberly-Gaubault-150x150.jpg

Kimberly Gaubault is a mother, grandmother, preacher, poet, singer, musician, Social Justice activist, advocate, lecturer and educator. As a survivor of Domestic Violence/Gender Violence and sexual assault, Kim seeks to empower those who have been affected by such horrible acts of violation.  Kim served the Duke University Community as the Program Coordinator for the Women’s Center for 3 years and continues to work towards solutions in regards to matters of social justice.  She uses her art, knowledge and experience as a vehicle of intervention and healing in the church, the academy and the community, nationally and internationally.  Kim holds a dual BA in English and African and African American Studies with a certificate in Women’s Studies, from Duke University, and an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary, in the City of New York, with a concentration in Theology and the Arts, Interreligious Studies and Interfaith Dialogue. Kim’s philosophy of personal interaction is “If I’ve not positively influenced someone everywhere I go, I’ve not walked in my purpose.”

Thoughts on Discipline, Justice, Love and Accountability: Redefining Words to Reimagine Our Realities by Qui Dorian Alexander

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. 


I always felt like discipline was such a loaded word. As an adult I think of discipline as consistency. A deliberate and intentional regimen. Coming back to a thing even when I don’t always have the desire to do so. I often thought that if I could not commit myself to writing every single day then, I couldn’t be a writer. If I didn’t commit to the physical practice of yoga everyday then I couldn’t be a yogi. This idea often prevented me from showing up to the practices that keep me well, because I internalized the ideas that I couldn’t really be committed to something if I didn’t have discipline. The grit to work hard, dig deep and keep at something even in the face of adversity. If I wasn’t the most disciplined then I wasn’t a master and therefore my ideas were not valid. To work through the self-sabotage of validity, I had to confront my own ideas and relationship to that word.

When you look up discipline in the dictionary, one of the very first things that come up is punishment. As a child, I thought of discipline in this way and often rejected it because of that idea. We live in a world that teaches us the only way to create discipline is through punishment. It becomes laced with shame, fear, guilt and failure. Discipline serves as a method of control for those in power, often when their sense of control is being questioned. It’s a system based on fear to maintain that power and we come to understand power as domination and authority because of this. This fear-based ideology teaches us that power can only reside in the hands of the few, one must maintain that power at all cost and that someone else’s access to power becomes a threat to our own. This ideology becomes particularly pertinent in teaching children how to engage with the adults in their lives. There are so many ways we deny a child their autonomy around their bodies, from forcing them to hug/kiss their relatives, scolding them for questioning adult behavior, or teaching them that any physical discipline they receive is because of love.

We all have an aversion to punishment. It doesn’t feel good, and doesn’t help us embraces the learning mistakes teach us. But when learn these patterns of punishment as children they show up in our homes, schools and larger communities. The conflation of discipline/punishment, power/abuse and structure/fear become normalized. So much “order” in our society is maintained, not by people’s desire to genuinely to do the right thing, but rather people’s desire to not get caught for doing the wrong thing. So what happens when young people experience harm from the people who are supposed to protect them? These conflated ideas and patterns teach young people that any harm they experience was brought onto themselves. They too must “maintain” order in their families, and by challenging any behavior that has become normalized; they become a disruption to the family. Negative reinforcement often doesn’t help people change their behavior, whether they have caused or received harm. People do not learn through shame. But our (in) justice system is setup in a way to isolate both survivors as well as people who have caused harm. It is set up to scare people into changing, through the negative consequences of their actions, rather than confront the issues that set the context up for abuse.

Sitting with the word discipline, I realized that I struggled similarly with the word justice. What does justice look like in the context of child sexual abuse (CSA)? Our society tells us that when justice is served, someone being held responsible means they are punished. They are then thrown into a system that promotes more fear, shame and isolation. There are a multitude of reasons why survivors of CSA don’t speak about their abuse, often because they experience those same contexts of fear, shame and isolation. Conditions that don’t actually help people heal, change or grow. Is it really justice if someone suffers from abuse in similar ways I did? Is justice served if someone is robbed from the community and care it takes to be a better person? Is it justice if someone gets locked up in a box, and not given the opportunity to heal, just act out again?

It makes me wonder what would this look like if we approached this from a place of love rather than a place of fear? Especially when we are taught that leading from a place of love will only get us taken advantage of and lead to more pain and hurt. No want wants to talk about love, especially within the context of child sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence. Violation of any form of intimacy is devastating, particularly in the familial context for children and young adults, and impact our lives into adulthood. This can become difficult for folks to unpack as love is often used as a way to manipulate young people. We don’t want to talk about love when it’s been taken from us or used against us, so why would we offer love to someone who has done that to us?

This led me to really sit with another word, love. What do we mean when we say that word? Do we mean an experience or do we mean a tangible item of value? We often teach children that we accept problematic behavior under the guise of love. That is something to give and take, and if it is taken from you, you did something to deserve it being taken. This skews a young person’s ideas about what the difference between love and abuse actually is. As we get older, we are taught a romanticized version of love, not thinking of love as taking work, it’s presented as effortless. We don’t take the time to think about the discipline it requires from us. Love is a verb, love is an action and it doesn’t always feel good. bell hooks describes love as a “wanting to extend yourself emotionally and spiritually for yourself or someone else.” A process that requires intention.

If we come to understand love to ask for more presence and practice from us, the real question becomes, do we think everyone is deserving of love? Who gets to decide who is worthy of love? If we use the systems and structures that are currently in place as our standard, no…not everyone is worthy of love. Our system teaches us that both survivors and people who cause harm don’t deserve love. Often ignoring the conditions that produce abuse and perpetuate an acceptance of rape culture. Rape culture is built on the basis that not everyone is worthy of love, and that those in power get to decide who is worth of dominating and who is worthy of being dominated. A result of the continued conflation of power and abuse, punishment and justice, rape culture continues to manifest in our social, cultural and political lives. It is built on the backs of vulnerable bodies: particularly children/young people; women and femmes; trans and gender non-conforming folks; people of color; poor/working class and disabled people. Teaching us that some people are entitled to power while others must “earn it.’ It teaches us that vulnerable bodies bring that on themselves.

Rape culture operates like an institution, a systematic structure of power that all other structures of dominance contribute to. A structure that determines where and how we place value. This capitalist based framework teaches us to commodify our world. We even base our relationships on what we can gain from the exchange. Capitalism is the system we’ve been taught to exchange value. But whose bodies do we value? Who gets to express that value? And who gets to decide if and when that value can change? Rape culture reinforces an underlying ethic of fear. Child sexual abuse and rape culture are inextricably connected as rape culture enables child sexual abuse to go unspoken. It rationalizes problematic behavior based on unequal power dynamics. These ideas just become accepted as truth and don’t leave space for people to challenge or complicate the narrative around them.

There have been many contexts and frameworks to envision these words: discipline, justice, love, value in new ways. I think sci-fi and speculative fiction is one of those frameworks. Walidah Imarisha says,

“When we talk about a world without prisons; a world without police violence; a world where everyone has food, clothing, shelter, quality education; a world free of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, heterosexism; we are talking about a world that doesn’t currently exist. But collectively dreaming up one that does means we can begin building it into existence.”

That imagining, visioning and building is speculative fiction. What would our world look like without child sexual abuse/violence? What are the ways we are learning to love differently? How do the relationships we have with our own bodies manifest themselves in our relationships? All these questions allow us to dig deeper to find a different way of responding to child sexual violence.

When I tell people I believe in prison abolition, their first reaction is usually fear or puzzlement. Common reactions include: “I know it’s not perfect, but it’s all we have” or “some people should just be locked up.”  People hold these sentiments to be true, all while recognizing that police brutality and mass incarcerations are very real issues within our communities. Our reliance on the state to define words like discipline, justice or value, have impeded our abilities to envision new ways of dealing with harm, change and fear. Transformative Justice (TJ) is a new vision. TJ is way of practicing alternative justice that acknowledges individual experiences and identities and works to actively resist the state’s criminal injustice system. It’s a method with responding to violence outside of the state. As a queer black trans person, the state is contributing to the erasure of my existence. The state doesn’t want me to exist in the first place, so I can’t rely on the state to solve the issues my community is facing. So what happens when the abuse I’ve experienced comes at the hands of my family members? How do we hold the juxtaposition of wanting accountability but knowing that the state can’t actually provide that?

It brings me back to examine what I think justice really is. What are we actually asking for when we say we want justice? Our fear based approaches to justice, denounce the actions one does in society but accept those same actions as consequence for one’s behavior. If we want to stop those violent behaviors, why are we condemning them in one context and condoning them in another? Why do we not support systems that allow or provide space for people to change? Do we want justice to look like trading in folks who are not as valuable as others? Is that what we want our liberation to look like?

We have to hold people accountable for the things they do. But let’s be clear, accountability and punishment are not the same thing. Punishment never looks at the root cause of conflict. It only addresses the value of the conflict, you have to “pay for” what you have done. Accountability acknowledges the conditions that caused a person to act in the ways they have. It recognizes the context in which one understands their own actions and creates a framework for someone to understand and be responsible for the impact of those actions.

To believe in TJ you have to believe in change. That people have the capacity to change, understanding that not everyone does. You have to believe that if we help people heal from their own hurts they can recognize how they have taken that out on others; they can start to change their behaviors. Prison locks you in a cell, takes away your humanity, isolates you, and takes away your worth. That fear based model doesn’t make space for people to change, it takes away your humanity so it can profit off of your body, a practice that impacts survivors of child sexual abuse as well. So what can accountability look like for a survivor of CSA? What does a support system look like? Can their healing be prioritized regardless of someone being accountable to them?

These questions provide us with the foundation to think of accountability as more than checking off “accountable to do lists.” It is doing the hard work of sitting with what it is that we believe in and what words we let define our experiences. It is difficult to acknowledge the fucked up things you have done or have been done to you. TJ provides a framework for us to accept that we are still worthy of love and belonging when we do or receive harm. Its saying no one is disposable, because oppressive structures are what cause folks to make harmful decisions and what teach us that any harmed we’ve received is our fault. One of my teachers once told me,

“Every action a human makes, is to bring them closer to joy.”

When you don’t have much to work with, your joy might be at the expense of someone else. When our relationships are just commodities to be sold, you can rationalize doing that or having that be done to you.

Accountability also cannot be done in a vacuum. It requires connection, trust and vulnerability. We have to be willing to be seen in our mess. Vulnerability is another word to sit and struggle with. Our fear-based world teaches us to conflate vulnerability with weakness. But vulnerability is the basis of human connection. When we see and hear our own experiences reflected in others we know we are not alone. The connection allows us to feel held in the process of change, that we have support, that there is something worth changing for. The vulnerability of asking for what one needs to heal is essential for both survivors and those who cause harm.

Brene Brown said, “Feeling vulnerable, imperfect and afraid is human, it’s when we lose our capacity to hold space for these struggles, that we become dangerous.” Our reactions to being seen in our vulnerability are based on fear. If we can only deal with interpersonal conflict by reflecting the values of the PIC (isolation, commodification, taking away humanity), we are just perpetuating the same systems that kill us. Learning to deal with interpersonal conflict in new ways, allows us to unlearn harmful behaviors and envision new ways to push up against larger systems of oppression.

As we continue to reflect on the words and ideas we hold to be true, are we giving ourselves the time and space to complicate those narratives? Are we asking more questions to dig deeper? Are we giving ourselves permission to be honest with how we react to those questions? I invite us all to think about words that we’ve grown to accept, the words that don’t sit right with us, and the words that prevents us from showing up for ourselves from a place of love. As we heal the wounds and trauma words hold for us, we can begin to recreate and reimagine our existences. We can begin to create new visions for our realities.


qui.jpg

Qui is a queer, trans, Black Latinx educator, organizer, yoga teacher and consultant based in Philadelphia. He is currently the Program Coordinator for the Haverford College Women*s Center. Qui started his organizing in undergrad to help create and hold safe(r), more inclusive spaces for folks who live on the margins. His work centers the intersections of gender, sexuality and racial justice; healing justice and transformative/restorative justice anti-violence work. Qui has shared his work at various universities, conferences and community centers, both locally and nationally. Believing the personal is political, his work strives to focus on personal liberation and healing to make movement work more sustainable.

Paying it Forward Instead of Looking Backwards by Loretta J. Ross

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 Loretta J. Ross

There is an intense dialectic between being a professional feminist who works to end all forms of violence against women and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. My life experiences propelled me into the anti-rape movement, and the movement makes sense of my life experiences. I’ve survived rape at 11, incest at 14, pregnancy at 15, gang rape at 16, and sterilization abuse at 23, but I would not forego any of those experiences. They contoured my glorious emergence as a proud, self-aware, and self-determining Black woman who unflinchingly looks life in the eye and struts proudly against all adversities. I had to decide that my trauma did not define me, although it grooved deep crevices in my mind into which it can be too easy to slip into depression. I fight these patterns daily and grow stronger with each victory. My spirit’s soul is the boss of me, not my mind, or my body, or the men who left their dirty fingerprints on my life story.

My service at a rape crisis center in the 1970s in my twenties taught me how invaluable professional therapy is in helping me stay present in my life and not seek to escape my lived experiences, as I used to do through drugs and sex work as a teenager. Instead, I learned in the company of other anti-rape sisters that fighting the numbing violence of sexual and reproductive oppression could become fuel for my passion and deepen my love of activism. Activism is the art of making my life matter. When I’ve told my story for the past 40+ years in small gatherings and national media, other women appreciate my example and find the courage to speak their own truths and be awed by the results.

All this self-confidence in knowledge gained through my lived experiences and my years as a Black feminist working in the Black nationalist, feminist, and human rights movements came crashing to a halt a few years ago at a family reunion. A 40-year-old niece secretly revealed to me that one of my brothers had committed incest against her when she was twelve. Burdened with this knowledge, I urged her to confront her father and let him know the secret was out – at least to her and me. She courageously did, and her story was confirmed when my beloved brother spent the rest of the reunion studiously avoiding me. Every time I entered a room, he caromed away as if we were two billiard balls struck by the same cue. Another of my five brothers noticed something was amiss and asked me afterwards why my joy at the family gathering abruptly disappeared. I shared the story with him. He doubted its truth because it painted a caricature of an elder brother neither of us could recognize.

I wondered what next to do, besides continuing to talk to my niece. I’m from a family of elderly women; my fondest fantasy is to finally be old enough to sit at the big girls’ table in the kitchen while other younger family members wait on us, bringing food and drinks and tenderly seeing to our needs. Since I am still mobile in my 60s, I’m not quite old enough yet, and I’m still the step-and-fetch-it kid to my aunts, great-aunts, and older cousins. But this day, I needed to sit at that kitchen table and ask my elders for advice. How could I be there for my niece in a way people had been there for me nearly five decades before? I believe with all my soul that this continuing cycle of childhood sexual abuse needs to end in my family, but I don’t know how to do it. My siblings are all grandparents, sometimes babysitting our grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. How can we protect vulnerable children we are so proud of?

I wanted my brother to be held accountable, but I had no idea what that meant. He’s battling prostate cancer, and we fear every reunion will be his last as his 77-year-old-body shrinks inexorably inward seeking relief from his chronic agony. I wanted to shout out my new knowledge, but feared what it would do to my niece, my elders, and me. My late mother was an incest survivor from age eight to sixteen, until she married to escape an abusive uncle who lived with her in a multi-generational farmhouse during the Depression. I wondered if my great-uncle also abused the surviving sisters and cousins sitting at this table with me. Did I have the courage or even the right to pull the scabs off their wounds when these women were in their 80s and 90s? If I don’t speak up, do I join a conspiracy of silence in which the men we deeply love continue to have sexual access to inexperienced girls in my family? My much older cousin raped me, leaving my late father impotent to retaliate to protect his baby girl when my abuser fled overseas to escape retribution. They may be good men who do bad things. Does that make them bad men, or complex people predictably acting out distorted masculinities?

I’ve spent the last four decades co-parenting with my rapist. My son knows this history, and has sought to build a positive relationship with his father. That effort predictably failed. What is our responsibility now as elders? Do other non-violent men in the family get a pass, and if not, what is their responsibility in breaking the silence and maintaining our love for each other? Our excessive sheltering of our girls and fierce insistence on the respectability politics of Christianity did not really shield any of our generations, my mother’s, mine, or my niece’s.

I thought I knew the answers to these questions. My Mom used to say, “Tell the truth and shame the devil!” This advice seemed sacrosanct until I became the one caught in the hinge of accountability. Fighting childhood sexual abuse no longer seemed so black-and-white, as my feminist principles urged. The nuances of family love, family healing, and family unity compromised my determination to uproot this festering canker in the hidden center of our relationships. Before I found the courage to speak up, my niece asked me to stay silent because she was not ready for her story to be more public. This was, at best, a temporary reprieve, because her father babysits his granddaughters. It’s a postponement of the truth that begs the question of whether the truth is even capable of providing healing as a pathway to justice and accountability.

The secrets of childhood sexual abuse of females in Black families can be attributed as a legacy of the enslavement, or the emasculation of Black men by white supremacy, or even dismissed as the politics of gender entitlement in society. We exist in a pervasive rape culture that normalizes and sometimes even celebrates violence against women.

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That long pause is there because in the middle of writing this essay, I received the terrible news that my son died earlier today of a heart attack. He was only 47-years old and his name is Howard Michael Ross, without whom much of my life would not have been possible. I can’t finish this now or maybe never. I have to go to Texas to be accountable to this child. My rapist is dead. My son is dead. Now I have to see that I don’t die too soon ensure that his brief life matters too. Peace my sisters…

****

Post-script. I buried my son a few weeks ago and Aishah asked me if I wanted to revise this first draft. At first I declined, but then I thought about it some more. I had the joy of raising my son Howard as a child and a teenager. At his funeral, I learned about my son as a man in ways I didn’t know before.

I wrote the following Facebook post thanking everyone for their love and support:

I witnessed at Howard’s wake and funeral how more than 200+ people loved and appreciated him as a man. He was a son, a father, a husband, an engineer, a math tutor, a college professor, a chapter president of Omega Psi Phi, a Christian, a mentor, an organizer of food for the homeless, our family nexus, a barbecue expert, a champion pool and domino player, and a proud Black man! From the students who talked about how he helped them through difficult classes, to his frat brothers who laughingly complained that he got them out of bed early many mornings to deliver food to the homeless, he was a man who touched many lives. This feminist mom was gifted with such a thoughtful and caring child who grew into a fabulous man. Although he was born of rape and incest, he made me love him immediately when they put him in my arms at the hospital, and I could not go through with the adoption. I saw how he helped others love him throughout his life of service to his family, community, Q brothers, and people. One example of how exceptional he became was demonstrated by the six siblings he sought out to bring his father’s children together to be brothers and sisters in unity, despite his father’s dubious history of violating young women. What other child of rape would do that?

I now know the stark difference between sadness and depression, because my depression comes and goes. The sadness of immense grief never totally dissipates, but grows easier to bear each day. The support from my Black sisterhood helps in ways I can never express: the pinochle sister Edith who came in her walker despite her physical pain to be with me that night. The best friend Dazon who slept with me so I would not be alone. The SisterSong leader Monica who helped elicit donations to pay for expenses. My older blood sister Carol who helped raise Howard. She talked to me every day but couldn’t attend the funeral because of her own disabilities. I am grateful for all of them and thankful that I was not alone in my grief unlike how I was isolated during my childhood traumas because I couldn’t tell anyone what happened. I can now share my story because of the anti-rape movement, and each telling helps the healing. I celebrate my son because he taught me what accountability actually looks like. I had to be accountable to him and my decision to keep him. He was accountable to me and his siblings. Maybe love with accountability is paying it forward instead of looking backwards.


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Loretta J. Ross was the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012. She has appeared on CNN, BET, “Lead Story,” “Good Morning America,” “The Donahue Show,” the National Geographic Channel, and “The Charlie Rose Show.” She has been interviewed in the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among others. She helped create the theory of “Reproductive Justice” in 1994 and led a rape crisis center in the 1970s. She co-authored Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice in 2004.

Self Love with Accountability by CeCelia Falls

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 CeCelia Falls

I have been accused of living in the past. This comment has usually come after I engage in a discussion about childhood sexual abuse. The ease at which I now disclose having been raped as a child by an adult male family member is uncomfortable for many people to hear.  A discomfort that is thrown back at me with dismissive comments like:

you have to stop living in the past

or

it’s time you got over that.”

That is a different kind of discomfort than what I experienced from disclosing my history to a therapist who remarked about the lack of emotion as I recounted what happened to my ten year old self. That discomfort was my therapist’s acknowledgement of how disconnected I was from the impact of my own history of abuse. That discomfort came from knowing the costs of that type of disconnect.

The discomfort that comes now has nothing to do with a “disconnect” in me, but from a societal disconnect from the reality of childhood sexual abuse—its nature, prevalence and impact on the survivor, families, and community at large. I find this discomfort both common and odd. Common because childhood sexual abuse is an uncomfortable, ugly, painful reality. Odd, because though it is all of those things-it is an incredibly common occurrence, across cultures and socioeconomic groups. So why do we still continue to be so silent?

Some will note that we aren’t as silent as we used to be given the books, movies, talk shows, etc. that have addressed childhood sexual abuse. There are also a number of celebrities who have disclosed having been sexually abused as children, yet there is still an air of secrecy and shame that pushes many survivors back into the silence they escaped. There is very little room for dealing with the ongoing consequences of abuse for the survivor.

Part of the problem is the centering of the perpetrator in the conversation. It’s understandable, to a degree. We can all agree that raping children is horrific. Something should be done about it and children should be safe from this type of horror. Punishing the perpetrator becomes the immediate goal to address the issue. While this is important, it does little to address the long term impact of the abuse on the survivor.

My work is centered on survivors and what happens after disclosure, trials, or no trials-which is more often the case. Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I continue to discover what healing means, looks like, and feels like on a day to day basis. As such, I don’t come to this work with all of the answers of an expert, but as a fellow survivor seeking to create a life I love and that works for me.  Surviving, healing, and thriving is at the core.

Being in community with other survivors and expressing myself artistically has been critical in my healing journey. Community helps to end the stigma and shame that often comes with identifying as a survivor. I started the volunteer group Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, to support survivors of African descent and to raise awareness about the nature, prevalence, and impact of childhood sexual abuse in Black communities. We use the arts to give voice, picture, and movement to our experiences as survivors. We are also committed to nurturing ourselves, our families, and communities to create a world free from sexual violence.  Clearly this is a lofty goal, but it can’t be done in silence or without a loving accountability to ourselves as survivors. We owe the hurting parts of ourselves acknowledgement and healing. We deserve it and we can’t wait for the rest of the world to catch up to us. Love with accountability is giving ourselves permission to love ourselves to health and the full good lives we deserve.


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CeCelia Falls is the Founder and Director of Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, a volunteer group for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse from the African/Black/Caribbean Diaspora. She hosts a monthly open mic called OPEN Expressions in Harlem. She is a writer and educational consultant, and considers both Harlem and Oakland as home.

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.

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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.


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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.

Accountability to Ourselves and Our Children by Ignacio Rivera

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 Ignacio Rivera

Love is overwhelming. I’m not referring to the act or ability to, but the very idea of it. It holds many meanings—interpretations. Love is subjective but love should be good—right? In that good love, how does accountability show up? What does love with accountability look like? Specifically, what does it look like in the context of survivorship? The practice of accountability has gained more attention in the last several years. We sometimes revel in the philosophy of accountability but the lived experience of what that looks likes varies. I guess you can say that love and accountability are subjective. Dually, we may have universal guidelines that aid in our interpretation of what these things mean separately and united. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a long-time comrade and a fellow recipient of the Just Beginning Collaborative Fellowship for child sexual abuse survivors of color, asked me to contribute to her project and ponder this quandary.

In my attempt to ponder, I am reminded of how both our projects—The HEAL Project and#LoveWITHAccountability—although different in approach, circle into one another. There is a connection. Pieces of a puzzle that ultimately form a larger framework for addressing and ending childhood sexual abuse (CSA). In #LoveWITHAccountability, Aishah speaks of love as a verb; an action, that all too often gets derailed or eliminated when it comes to confronting child sexual abuse within the family unit.

The majority of us are taught from birth that regardless of any transgression we may experience at the hands of a family member, we must protect the family at all cost. Love is all too often used as a weapon against survivors of abuse…

If you love me, if you love this family, you wouldn’t tell. I’ve seen this “protection” of sorts, dissected over 15 years ago, in the anti-violence movement within the LGBT community. Struggling to win basic rights and gain legitimacy in our relationships, the intimate partner violence occurring within was suppressed. Uncovering the violence would harm our fight for rights— so some thought. #LoveWITHAccountability’s focus is families of color, specifically of African descent, thus the protection of the sexual, physical, psychological, economical violence within either of these family structures is anchored in our experiences with oppression. Normalcy, fitting in, not ruffling any feathers and hopefully avoiding homophobic, transphobic, racist and sexist law enforcement—a survival technique, that comes at a cost. This is the place where cultural, historical, community driven measures in addressing CSA is a necessity. It certainly should be a wider accepted option for those needing/wanting resolution and self-identified justice. In revisiting the concept of family “protection,” specifically from state punishment, restorative and transformative justice are frameworks that allow for more than prison time. It incorporates reactive accountability, has the potential to instill a long-term accountability action plan (proactive), it aids in the shifting of power, and allows for healing on survivors own terms.

Accountability, more often than not, has been experienced as a form of punishment, in answer to a wrong one has done. It is the aftermath– reactionary process of blame and shame–often times using call-out culture and more recently call-in culture to address the “misstep.” This process is only a piece of the potential accountability can offer. It should be a part of the very foundation of how we interact with one another. It should be how we come to expect respect as part of the culture, our communication and problem solving. Love cannot be maintained without accountability. Accountability in essence should be experienced as proactive and reactive but never reactive alone. In searching for the “official definition” of accountability, I found several. Most of which define it as taking responsibility for one’s actions, admitting to mistakes and being answerable to someone. I’d add that this should be understood as an overall framework of trustworthiness and responsibility of intentional actions—thus not necessarily structured as punitive (after the fact) but can be used as such to remind us of said structure. Love is accountability and accountability is love. If we believe, as Aishah states, that love is a verb, then if we navigate accountability as reactive, it in essences cancels out love. If love is moving, intentional and constantly acting, then we are processing through accountability. I want to believe that we have the capacity to love with accountability—take responsibility before there is an issue, a misstep or in this case a violation.

The levels of accountability should be noted here. I try to navigate it internally, interpersonally and community wide. How am I engaging, understanding power, and what boundaries am I putting in place for myself? How am I questioning myself? Since accountability cannot function with me alone, how am I making myself vulnerable? What am I sharing/asking of my peers? How am I listening to their input/critique? Finally, how am I engaging with the wider community? These levels function as a punitive framework as well. What did I do? Do I understand the ramifications of my actions? Self-reflection is key. Then, we must engage in “telling on ourselves.” Engaging with our peers, chosen family, family of origin, and others allows for loving critique, advice and action steps. The process goes beyond just accepting responsibility but doing some work. Saying you accept responsibility, taking steps to maintain that responsibility or doing something to rectify what you have done are all different things.

What we know is that child sexual abuse is an epidemic. It is traumatic. Surviving it increases the chances that you will be sexually assaulted as an adult and or experience intimate partner/domestic violence. We know that the most vulnerable children—those at the margins of oppression— suffer at an increased rate. We know that children are targeted because they are vulnerable and are seen as easily manipulated. We know that the effects of CSA are long lasting—especially around sex, sexuality and relationships. How would loving our children—daughters, nieces, grandchildren, Godsons—with accountability shift this abusive reality?

For me, The HEAL Project, is about not teaching through fear. It is about giving our children information—the tools to understand their bodies. It goes beyond “good touch, bad touch and stranger danger.” It picks up where CSA prevention has left off. It pushes parents to engage with their children around sex(uality). It helps to create well informed young people and aids children in finding their voice and agency. It opens up the lines of communication in a bigger way. It eliminates shame and uncovers secrecy—the places where abuse breeds. This love is radical because it is intentional and proactive.

When we teach our children how to swim, we don’t engage them through fear. The lesson goes beyond, fearing the deep end and possible drowning. We talk about our relationship to water, what it feels like to walk, run and dive into water. We talk about the joys of swimming and we inform them of the dangers. Most importantly, we engage them in discussing what safety looks like and what to and not to do in an emergency. In comparison, how do we teach sex(uality) to our children and young people? Do we leave it to the school system, have one talk with them at a designated age or don’t speak on sex at all? Are we holding back vital life information that can help our children, families and community address CSA? If we begin to think about sex(uality) education as an imperative tool for life, we would shift fear-based, incomplete or non-existent sex talks into accountable lessons for parent/guardian, children and young people. It would be an ever growing and shifting life lesson with growth and learning on all ends. It would cover body image, reproductions, sexual desire, masturbation, sexually transmitted infections, pornography, sex and love, sex without love, sexism, homophobia, consent, boundary setting, relationship building, negotiating what we want, and so so much more. It is a lifelong process that truly aids in our ability to function as connected humans. Even a lifeguard has to re-certify every two years. A refresher, a reminder because it is just that important; this is accountability with love. I am responsible for the swimmers or my children and keeping myself informed. I understand the role of power here– I am the lifeguard. I have skill to protect/save swimmers. I am a parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt– I am the adult, I must keep myself informed, teach all that I can, talk with my children beyond “the talk,” show them that they can talk to me about anything. This is a commitment. It is a process. It is the action of love. This is Love with accountability.


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Ignacio Rivera is a Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” Ignacio has spoken nationally and internationally on racism, sexism, LGBTQ issues, anti-oppression, anti-violence, sexual liberation, multi-issue organizing and more. Ignacio’s work has manifested itself through skits, one-person shows, poetry, lectures, workshops, and experimental film. Ignacio is the founder of Poly Patao Productions, sporadically blogs on WhatTheySaidBlog.com, is one of the founding board members of Queers for Economic Justice as well as one of the 2016 Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellows. Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) is a movement building platform designed to initiate, cultivate, and fund strategic efforts to end child sexual abuse.

For more information, check out: http://heal2end.comhttp://www.IgnacioGRivera.com, and http://whattheysaidblog.com.

Unfinished by Dr. Worokya Duncan

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 Dr. Worokya Duncan

 

While growing up in a Black Pentecostal church, I was tacitly trained to view God in a particular way. Like Marcion and his followers, I began to think of the Bible as having two gods- one evil and one loving. Traditionalism and ecclesiastical rules caused me to see Christianity as a religion where pleasure is sin, human desire is automatically not God’s desire, and that do’s and don’ts were of more central value than the complexion of one’s heart. It is not my belief, however, that this indoctrination was purposeful. Certain theologies and hermeneutics that are subscribed to by some Pentecostal churches cause those who are raised/taught under its arm to live in such dogmatic and legalistic bondage.

This alleged legalistic bondage tends to affect every aspect of an individual’s life. Therefore, in several crisis situations, I tended to look at a situation in legal terms rather than realistically. Certain tragedies may be viewed as punishment, or an example of God’s sovereignty, which yet remains to be seen. Feminist, Womanist, and Liberation theology seek to redefine, reform, and realign the way individuals have understood ourselves in light of certain doctrines. These “new” theologies force us to admit the assumptions that are made by theological assertions.

One important example of the distortion and need for reformation is the place given or not given to women survivors of sexual assault- specifically incest, in particular churches. The role that Black women have had to play in the Black church or within Black liberation theology would seem to be non-existent if one would observe many books and theological articles and churches. A blatant sexism that “denies Black women equal opportunity exists in the churches’ major leadership roles (Williams, 1999).” Although Black liberation theology and the so-called Black church are intended to be places of respite from the onslaughts of racism in the greater society, sexism is a form of oppression that is alive and well.

Black ministers have been adamant in preaching against Paul’s sayings concerning slavery andsubmission, but they openly preach about the role of women in a way that sounds only too similar to white patriarchy. In addition, because intellectualism whether theological or otherwise, has been identified with the public sphere (thusly separating it from women), women have been unable (until recently) to speak for themselves. White theology was unable to speak to the concerns of or speak for white women of Black people. It can be concluded, then, that Black theology and a Black church that is written by Black men cannot free or speak in the true interest of Black women.

The key to maintaining any type of power, rather psychological, spiritual, or physical is validation. Validation can either be given tacitly or directly. I believe that the dual silence of the Black church on issues of sexuality and the silence of survivors have given legitimacy to views about sexuality in general, and Black sexuality in particular.

6. That’s how old I was. 6. A super tiny, and very sure-of-myself 6. All of that changed right before my 7th birthday. Everyday after school, I would go to my mom’s job, which was housed in a church- my church. I sat in the stairwell, did my homework, and read a book. This was my schedule. Like clockwork. What I didn’t know, was that someone else was paying very close attention to my schedule, and it wasn’t my mom. He was young. Kind acting in our previous interactions, and I thought, harmless. I didn’t know what grooming was, but I guess that’s what he’d been doing in the months prior. I remember when it started, I was wearing my school uniform, and my hair had a red bow in it. I was reading Charlotte’s Web. I know, that’s not a book a 6-year old would normally read, but I didn’t grow up in a typical household. At any rate, I was reading and he started to touch my knee. I didn’t say anything, and to this day, I don’t know why. Then he started to touch my thigh, and again, I said nothing. I was 6, and grew up in church, and you don’t talk back to your elders, even when what they’re doing feels wrong. Then his fingers moved further up and pushed my panties aside. He inserted two fingers and I finally made a sound. It hurt. I didn’t even know I had a hole there until him. He removed his fingers when he heard me wince, smelled them, and went about his business. He would do this every day until right before my 8th birthday. The way I grew up, bad things happened to people whose faith had wavered, or people who’d committed a horrible sin. I didn’t know which applied to me, but I knew I had to have done something awful for God to allow this to happen to me over and over and over. When I was 14, I found out he’d died of AIDS a few years before. I sat in torment, as back then, there was little we knew about HIV/AIDS. I was convinced I’d contracted it. I said nothing to anyone, including my mother, until I was 16 years old. I told someone in my church because I figured, if the assault happened in church, maybe I could get healing in church too. For me- that was a mistake.

The newest Avengers movie has a scene where Bucky is being held in a cage, of sorts. His captor starts reading of a series of words, and with each progressing word, the audience witnesses a change in Bucky’s eyes and behavior. By the time the last word is spoken, we understand that Bucky was a victim of wartime psychological programming that made him a weapon. All it took was a word to cause him to remember everything of who he was. We were in a youth group one Saturday, and someone said one word, and all of the snippets of memory combined to create a flood. Whereas through the years, I remembered some of what I’d experienced, one word seemed to make more than more than years worth of assault come to the front of my mind, like a record on repeat. I began crying and screaming uncontrollably. They went into spontaneous prayer, because that’s what we were taught to do. When I finally calmed down, the leaders asked me what was wrong. I told them what had happened to me, and their response ripped the band-aid that had been placed over my gaping wound, only to pour salt into it. They quoted Romans 8:28-

All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord.

They said my being molested as a child was equally bad and necessary to make me a symbol of what God could do. They said my emotional turmoil was all part of the process, and that one day, I’d see that. What I thought would begin my healing threw me into pain that for a 16-year old, was unmanageable. What I needed to hear was that God and someone else cared. I knew I’d never receive any kind of legal justice, after all, he was dead. But I needed my church to say something different to me. I needed them to stop pushing a false and harmful theology, espousing violence and pain, specifically sexual violence, as a tool that God- a male God, required to teach lessons to some future people who needed to see how great he was. What about me now? How was my pain going to be addressed? Who was going to show me that God was great, because in my eyes, you can’t have let this happen to me and still be called anything other than a monster. In the church, accountability has to begin with what we say to survivors.

If one is going to use the Bible as the standard in the church, even when speaking of CSA, we have to re-humanize these biblical actors. In the church, accountability admits that churches have sometimes been spaces of harm and not healing. Ministers can use the story of Hagar who was raped and forced to bear a child, or the story of Tamar whose father surrendered her to a crowd to be raped, and subsequently killed, to illustrate the awful, gut-wrenching, mind-fracturing, and body-breaking pain CSA survivors encounter during the act and in the after-math, because the healing does not end. The flashbacks occur when one least expects it, and at the most inopportune moments. Accountability will not always include testifying against a perpetrator, or seeking a remedy from the courts. What I’d like to see is what wasn’t done for me. I’d like to see spaces for CSA survivors to process what they’ve endured, in church, with trained facilitators. I’d like to see ministers no longer skirting the issue and choosing to preach about every #BlackLivesMatter issue, except sex crimes.

For centuries, Black women have been expected to hold up the church, whether through finances, service, or both. Who’s holding up these women? Who’s singing their songs? Love with accountability in the church looks like our churches being safe spaces for crying, screaming, cursing, and even not believing, if that’s part of the journey.

Williams, D. (1999). Sisters in the wilderness: the challenge of womanist god-talk. Orbis Books

Grant, J. (1993) “Black Theology and The Black Woman”. Black Theology: A Documentary History, Vol. 1 1966-1979. Orbis Books.


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Dr. Worokya Duncan is a professional educator with over 18-years of classroom experience, a Doctoral-level education, a great deal of energy, and a commitment to students. Over the course of her career, she has taught both elementary and middle school students in a variety of subjects, including United States History, Literacy and Science. Her efforts undoubtedly extend beyond academics. She works hard to instill a sense of pride, community, and motivates students to set higher standards. With everyone with whom she interacts, she takes time to connect with each one, demonstrating genuine sensitivity. Through an ongoing process of planning, delivering, reflecting, and refining lessons, she has been consistently successful at balancing individual needs with the federal, state, and local standards and assessments.

Dr. Duncan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies and Political Science; two master degrees in Theology and Education and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction in Education. Given the combination of her competencies, she pursued research in Africentric curriculum in a quest to provide options in effecting true positive change in eliminating the race-based education achievement gap. Through professional development sessions, lectures, workshops, and seminars, Dr. Duncan illuminates the hidden and often ignored issues affecting education in the United States. She is currently The Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement at The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, and conducts institutes and workshops on deconstructing racism, sexism, ableism, gender-bias, and xenophobia through Duncan Educational Consultants.

Our Silence Will Not Save Us: Considering Survivors and Abusers by Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis

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 Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis

As a womanist psychologist, minister, and sacred artist, my reflections on effective response to child sexual abuse necessitate an examination of the journey of survivors and offenders within their cultural context.  I invite you to consider these pathways to safety, love, and accountability with me through poetry and essay, art and science, heart and mind.  After wading in these waters for many years, I am persuaded that any effective solution will need to be holistic and interdisciplinary.  In other words, all that each of us has to bring to the table is needed for transformative care, healing, and justice to be co-created.

Molestation gets buried

In the ribcages of children

The pelvic bones of children

The hearts, lungs, and memories of children

These children, we children, grow up

And from the vantage point of strangers

We may look like sturdy oak trees

But those who dare to look closely

See the sores on our bark

Experience the tangled roots of our emotions

Witness the disconnected gaps in our branches

But most don’t look

Retreating habitually to the averted gaze of eyes shut

………refusing to bear witness

Willing our children to stand under the weight

Celebrating those who manage to soar despite the weight on our wings

We directly and indirectly give our children the script of silence

No one after all wants to hear about ghosts that came in the night

Often sharing our same last name

No one wants to think about the intrusions on toddlers, the fingers or the hellish hot breath whispers

The violation of bodies still young enough to carry lunch boxes and backpacks

No one wants to sit with the whole truth of the dismantling of adolescents

Those left sobbing in the fetal position

Limping back to homeroom

Shallow breath as intruders descend upon us

It’s easier to talk about God or report cards or television shows or what’s for dinner or even problems facing the black community

Anything really is more palatable than shh…

Our silence does not save us and definitely does not heal us

But even with the demand for silence, the violation speaks

Often in riddles

The violation discovers the code of nonverbal communication

The abuse screams in the muffled voice of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, anger, panic attacks, addiction, dissociation, suicidality, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder

Translated in our communities with other labels like bad attitude, too sensitive, drama queen, troubled, zapping out, spacing out, irritating, trouble maker, bad hygiene, forgetful, to grown for her good, shy, secretive, quiet, weird, emotional, cold, moody, off

Forgetting they told us with words and deeds to hush

But we need space to think, feel, speak, connect, process, restore

We need seeing eyes, listening ears, open hearts

The silence strangles us again

Again and again

Yet often those who encourage silence would in most cases say they love us

It’s the kind of love that walks on egg shells around sexual violence

The kind of love that would defend us against the sting of racism or the mistreatment by a teacher, stranger, or in some cases a bully

But when a vagina, penis, anus, breasts are involved our loved ones run out of words

Cloaking themselves in silence or uncomfortable laughter

After all most grew up in houses where those words were neither uttered or alluded to

Especially in relationship to children

They were not given the vocabulary for this test

So they leave their paper blank

Putting roof over head, food on the table, God in your heart, goals in your mind

And this my sisters and brothers is love

But this silenced love does not save us when the vultures have come to eat up our flesh

Desecrating our temples

Leaving 4 year olds, 10 year olds, 15 year olds to gather the sharp edges of shattered pieces of themselves… alone

Loved ones can think silence is a gift

Hoping children will forget, not dwell on it, and not focus on it

If we don’t speak it, we can falsely believe that we have erased it

But it remains busting out of the seams of our souls

Not only is silenced love insufficient for survivors, it is also is a disservice to abusers.  Abuse thrives in silence and secrecy.  Abusers grow in power the more eyes that are closed.  Denial by family, community members, teachers, social workers, and judges are the wind beneath the wings of predators. While children are often silent as a result of shock, fear, confusion, and shame, what keeps non-abusing adults silent?  The reality is most abusers are not strangers.  There are abusers we know that we consider to be monsters and these abusers we often fear, even as adults.  But most abusers are not considered monsters.  They often are loved ones.  They are our partners, spouses, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers, coaches, principals, troop leaders, and ministers.  We often believe that the godly response is to love them unconditionally.  We want to believe it was just a mistake, a case of bad judgment, a response to stress, a regretful act that only occurred because of substance abuse, an error brought on by the child who was too grown, too developed, or too fast.  In some cases we are silent because of our distrust of the criminal injustice system.  We have seen too many black bodies dehumanized behind bars so instead of adding to the numbers we exchange our children’s black bodies for the freedom of our kindred who are perpetrators.

To be honest, our silent love is not just a gift we give our loved ones who are abusers.  It is also a gift we give ourselves.  We don’t want to think about it and don’t want to talk about it.  We wish it had not happened so we act as if it never happened.  Our silence intensifies the suffering of survivors and gives free license to molesters to continue to violate our children or someone else’s children.

Truthfully our silence, intentionally or unintentionally, supports the abuser.  It does not support their transformation or growth but instead gives them license to continue acting out their quest for power and control on the bodies of children.  If we love someone who has abused, we must accept that true love requires honesty and accountability.  If we love them, we have to want better for them and of them.   We often retreat into silence in the presence of those who have abused children because we don’t know what to say and we are afraid to hear their answers.  Love with accountability means that I have to speak truth to the person who abused a child or adolescent and dare to discuss the impact of their actions.  To not speak on these ongoing consequences is to allow the abusive person to believe that moments of violation are simply insignificant flashes of the past never to be visited again.  Abused children, as well as adults who were abused as children, continue to live with the physical, psychological, social, and even spiritual consequences.  If I love someone who has abused a child, I have to love them enough to have honest conversation and authentic dialogue about those whom they have violated, the consequences of that abuse, and their current thoughts about abusing again.  To love someone who has been abusive it to actively engage in conversation and take concrete steps to reduce the risk of future abuse.  Risk reduction should not be placed on the shoulders of children.  Risk reduction is not simply telling children to “stay away from them” or “tell me if they do it again.”  Not only must I be willing to wade into the water of truth telling with loved ones who have been abusive, I have to step beyond my comfort and actually require accountability which includes reporting the abuse.  Sexual abuse is a violent crime and to treat it as if it is not gives abusive persons the message that violating children is acceptable and excusable.  If I love someone who has abused a child, I have to tell him or her the truth and the truth is the abuse of children is a major violation that requires major intervention.

Our current prison industrial complex does not have a great track record for transformation or rehabilitation.  However it is problematic for us to send the message that stealing televisions and physically assaulting strangers should result in a punitive action but sexually violating children does not warrant a punitive response.  If we are going to transform the entire prison industrial complex, which we must, it should not be a piecemeal approach that starts with continued community and societal silent support of sexual predators.  If incarceration is part of the response, the incarceration of sex abuse offenders as well as the incarceration of other offenders should not be inhumane.  Incarceration should not include required unpaid labor, solitary confinement, overpopulated prisons, routine rapes, torture, and unsanitary conditions and/or unsafe conditions.

A punitive response however is not the only possible response to child sexual abuse and it is definitely not a response that is effective in transforming the hearts, minds, and behaviors of offenders.  It should not take a multi-million dollar psychology grant to surmise that locking human beings behind bars where there is a high likelihood of them being the victim of sexual assault does not lead to improvements.  Transformative justice, on the other hand, can include mandated long-term counseling, monitoring, and registration.  Conferences conducted with the aim of restorative justice should prioritize the experience and needs of the survivor not primarily function to serve the needs of offenders.  Restorative justice can provide survivors with a safe space to tell their stories if they so choose, statements of support from both persons in their intimate circle and from authority figures, and resources for counseling and to assist in other areas of the survivor’s life that may have been affected by the abuse such as housing, education, and medical health needs.   Dr. Judith Herman’s work on perceptions of justice for adult survivors note that most want acknowledgment of what has been done to them and only endorse the incarceration of offenders who they believe to remain a risk of re-offending them or others.  For the offender, restorative or transformative justice can include circles of support which have been studied in Canada for over a decade.  These circles include informal networks as well as professionals from the justice system and mental health system that provide consistent monitoring, guidance, and accountability to assist the offender in integrating into the community in healthy, safe ways.  Those who have loved ones who have abused children sexually should open their minds and hearts to the reality that we can love people and still hold them accountable for their actions.  These acts of love move us beyond the silence of neglect and enabling to align ourselves with intervention which may include directly addressing the abusive behavior, reporting the abuse, advocating for more humane approaches to incarceration for those who remain a risk to society, and supporting the mandate for treatment, monitoring, and guidance.  Those I love I do not want to neglect, leaving them to further harm themselves and others.  As a family, community, and society we have to go beyond hoping our loved ones who have committed abuse will change.  We have to choose to love them enough to wade into the difficult waters for the safety of our children.  There is an African proverb which says, “When you pray, move your feet.”  Our children’s lives, bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits matter.  Our faith in abusive loved ones without the work of accountability leaves us all unsaved.


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Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, associate professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, and an ordained minister in the AME Church.  She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from Duke University and completed her post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical Center.  Dr. Bryant-Davis is a former American Psychological Association representative to the United Nations and past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women.  The California Psychological Association honored her with the Distinguished Scholar Award for her work on the cultural context of trauma recovery.  She is author of the books Thriving in the wake of trauma: A multicultural guide and Tweets for the SoulShe is co-editor of the book Religion and Spirituality for Diverse Women: Foundations of Strength and Resilience.   She is also a spoken word artist and sacred dancer who utilizes the expressive arts and spiritual practices to facilitate recovery.  Dr. Bryant-Davis is a trauma researcher, practitioner, and survivor who has dedicated her life to prevention and intervention efforts with aims of empowerment and thriving.  She also co-edited a book that was published this summer by the American Psychological Association entitled Womanist and Mujerista Psychologies: Voices of Fire, Acts of CourageShe has conducted research on interpersonal trauma including but not limited to human trafficking, sexual assault, child abuse, and societal trauma.  At Pepperdine University, Dr. Bryant-Davis has taught Expressive Arts Therapy, Trauma with Diverse Populations, Clinical Skills, and Multicultural Counseling.  She is the director of the Cultural and Trauma Research Lab and has worked with the NAACP on a project exploring best prevention practices and barriers of Black churches to HIV/AIDS.  Dr. Bryant-Davis has been a mental health expert consultant for television, film, radio, and news print for a range of outlets such as CNN Headline News, BET, and National Public Radio.

Fast by Kai M. Green

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 Kai M. Green

There was once a little Black girl who liked digging holes in the mud. She liked to feel the slime of worms. She reveled in the feel of the damp grit beneath her fingertips. Dirt did not bother her. It was only that she knew if she got too dirty she’d probably get in trouble for messing up her school clothes. This little Black girl liked play with the boys. She liked to take off her shirt and run around the yard like the boys. She did not think that she was a boy, but she had never been told that there were certain things that she would eventually have to become. Black girl. The becoming was a lesson. The becoming required a disciplining of the body. The becoming required a naming of the body, a naming that made what was hers both sacred and a burden, a naming that made what was hers not hers at all. The becoming made her mother afraid. Black mother wanted baby to play, but Black girls play is often interrupted by other things. Black mother never wanted those other things for her little girl, so she tried her best to protect her baby’s body.

Black mother took Black girl to the doctor because she baby be growin’ and bubblin’ over.

Her chest be becomin’ breasts. Black mother frets over not having more time. Too fast. Training bra becomes a necessary armor for her kindergartener. Her baby’s body was becomin’ the ground upon which many battles would be fought. Black mother had already been a battle ground body, she too had once become a Black girl and then woman. Black mother’s body had already been made to bend and break and hold and birth somethings that she would have rather not birthed. She wanted to protect her Black girl baby. She wanted to keep her whole and clean, but she knew the world did not care about the sacred text that was her baby’s body. The world was too big and too cruel. The world was also too small and too close, like family.

Black mother decided that the only way to keep Black girl safe was to wrap her up in chains, chains like Jesus, Bible, silence, secrets, and ancestral scars. She longed to keep Black girl from unsolicited touch, those who might harm her, some of the same people who harmed Black mother. But, chains failed at slowin’ Black girl’s body growin’. The chains did create a distance though, between Black girl and herself, her own body which she could no longer touch without fear or shame. Black girl’s battleground body become burden, become this thing that she didn’t ask for, inherited. Her body grew fast, and as much as Black mother tried to keep her, she could not.

When it came out, what had happened that summer, three years after her Black girl body first started to show signs of becomin’; When Black girl came to Black mother and told her all of the things that had happened to her Black girl body, Black mother responded with a question: “Did you like it?” Black girl was confused by the question, but responded “No.” She knew that the question was used to evaluate if she had become fast like her cousin, who was five years older. Black girl wanted more than anything to be good, so she learned to love being good, but never learned to love what she liked. What she liked, she didn’t know how to name after that moment. Healing for Black girl came in the form of learning how to name what she liked, learning how to ask for what she liked and believing that she deserved to have what she asked for.

Black girl is a childhood survivor of incest and sexual abuse. When Black girl told Black mother what was happening there was nothing done to remove her from the situation, so she learned to live with it. She learned to appreciate the moments when her abuser was nice to her. Black girl basked in those sweet moments knowing that they would always come with a side of cruelty. She still remembers what it felt like to be slapped hard across her face. There were never any bruises because Black girl’s skin was dark and she could take just about anything, she believed. There were no visible traces, the traces were all much deeper than skin could ever reveal.

Black girl would go on to remember that summer every day for the rest of her life. After that moment migraines, depression, and shame become hers. She tried her best to reverse the stain of beingfast. She became good. But good is not free. And protection is not the same as discipline. Black girl and Black mother’s body had been disciplined, but it was rare that they were ever protected. Black girl had to reeducate herself. Every day when she remembers that summer, she also affirms her own right and power to protect her body and spirit. Black girl carried shame and guilt as she grew and moved through many emotionally abusive adult relationships. She learned to seek out partners that affirmed her insecurities. They kept her in her place, kept her unhealthy and un-healing. They kept her feeling ugly, as if she didn’t deserve care. Abuse felt a lot like love to her, because of its familiarity, it kept her. Black mother wanted to keep Black girl safe, but the body can’t be disciplined into safety. The worlds around Black girl bodies must be reshaped to be able to hold her, fast as she may be—So, quit slowing her down, she was made to fly!

Coda

But the question that we were all to respond to in this forum is: What does accountability look like after Black girl done become?

After recounting Black girl’s tale [which is not just her own, but of course, it is also her mother’s shame, her auntie’s denial, her cousins’ tears, her play cousins’ confusion—there are too many Black girl battle ground body stories—] the question we are left with is: what does accountability look like when you are the only one who remembers what happened? What does accountability look like when you remind your loved ones of that thing that happened, that was not love, and they say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and walk away? How does silence fill your mouth after that? Your body remembers. Your Black girl spirit remembers. You know what happened and you want to heal, but there are no apologies to be had. You are forced to swallow an inherited silence that your Black family has built as a wall of protection.

So what does accountability look like in the face of deep forgetfulness? It might look like walking away. It might look like a refusal to stop asking for those who were there to bear witness—tell the truth!

In the end, I don’t know what an accountability process for Black girl would look like. I know some things though. I know accountability requires responsibility. Those who have harmed must learn how to say “I have harmed, but I am not harm,” “I have acted like a monster, but I AM NOT a monster.” Those who have harmed have to commit to becoming better. Our Black families and communities need our people, and we need them to be well. Currently, we do not have enough tools or even language to articulate an effective model of accountability that does not replicate a carceral imaginary. Accountability requires an abolitionist ethic. We must ask ourselves: Do we seek healing or punishment? The answer of course for most survivors fluctuates—respect that.

We must ask: What is the relationship between accountability and transformative justice?

Justice that transforms harm into something else, like Black love, is hard work. This kind of justice changes both individuals and systems of oppression. In order to envision and create this new world we sometimes have to suspend our notion of reality, which is always steeped in history. What we have experienced can sometimes confine our imaginations, so we have to work against that non-creative force. This work requires intentionality. What is accountability for Black girls’ whose bodies re-remember family secrets that were supposed to be kept buried—forgotten? But like ghosts, they rise. You must remember and affirm your truth in spite of forgetfulness.

Accountability looks like more struggle; after the harm has been done, after the PTSD, after the nightmares, after all that. Accountability looks like an investment in the healing of the harm-doer. We desire for harm-doers to cease harm, but accountability asks something else of those that have been harmed. It asks us to believe that the harm-doer can be different and do better. Accountability initiates transformation in the lives of those who were harmed and those who have harmed (sometimes one person can be both). Accountability moves us towards a world where Black girl won’t have to inherit Black mother’s trauma. Black girl and Black mother no longer lean into the farce protection of respectability politics, body policing, religion, and covering up—they can’t [be] fly all bogged down like that!

So, I’ll repeat it for re-memory’s sake: The worlds around Black girl bodies must be reshaped to be able to hold her, fast as she may be—So, quit slowing her down, she was made to fly!

Author’s note:  This is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled, A Body Made Home. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in writing this piece. It was a particularly challenging task and forced me to go places I hadn’t gone before. These kinds of journeys are best if not taken alone. I thank Nkiru Nnawulezi, JeNaé Taylor, and Micah Hobbes Frazier for helping and holding me as I moved through writing this peace. I especially give gratitude for Aishah Shahidah Simmons as she has not only made space for us to share our testimonies of survival, but she has pushed us to imagine and create new Black futures where Black girls and women soar beyond scars.


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Kai M. Green is a shape-shifting Black queer nerd Boi; An Afro-Future, freedom-dreaming, rhyme slinging dragon slayer in search of a new world. A scholar, poet, and filmmaker, Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity with specializations in Gender Studies and Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He joined the faculty of Feminist Studies of UC Santa Barbara as Assistant Professor of Queer Theory in Fall 2016. He is currently at work editing, along with C. Riley Snorton and Treva Ellison, a special issue of TSQ on Black Studies/Trans* Studies, and, as sole editor, a book collection entitled Black Trans Love is Black Wealth.

How I Built Community While Researching Accountability by Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz

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 Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz

How do you search for what is intentionally hidden?

How do you look for what does not want to be found?

I stared at the keyboard and with each term combination, my hesitation grew. The anxiety towards what I might find grew and grew.

~~~

When I met Aishah Shahidah Simmons she was the Sterling Brown Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College. To me and all of the students who engaged with her while she was at Williams, she was Professor Simmons.  It was spring semester 2016 and I recently returned from a semester abroad. Being her “research assistant” was all I knew I needed to be on campus to go to classes, make my money, and mind my business. I didn’t think it would be too difficult a task; I had researched her while abroad, reading through her biography and watching youtube snippets and I thought she had a pleasant disposition though sometimes abrasive. But no-nonsense, for sure.

So when I met Professor Aishah Shahidah Simmons and finally introduced myself, hastily at the end of our first class together on Black Women Filmmakers and Writers, she was perhaps exactly as I had imagined and simultaneously wholly revitalizing: open-spoken and straight to the point with subtle variations in the face that told all one needed to know about how she felt. She expressed a desire for clarity, constructive community, and most of all – accountability; the syllabus certainly foretold how accountable she would hold us. Her demeanor expressed how accountable we could hold her.

I knew we would get along then.

~~~

All I knew was that I needed to be her research assistant and I wasn’t quite sure what that entailed. I was out of my depth, for sure, but I wanted to do a good job no matter what. After all, two of my most respected professors – Drs. Rhon Manigault-Bryant and James Manigault-Bryant — had recommended me for the position. I had to do a good job just to make sure I didn’t discredit or disappoint them. It didn’t matter what she would ask of me, whether that was paper pushing or making copies of important womynist documents or searching through databases of some deep artistic material only attainable and applicable to an elect, I would do it. I expected our first meeting about her research to be similar to all other meetings where professors hand down the law and liberty and dictate hours of contact and other formalities, widening the gap between researcher and assistant.

Professor Simmons instead brought me in. She spoke of her background and her very non-traditional trajectory in academia and filmmaking. She spoke of her previous film NO! The Rape Documentary and sometimes went on a tangent. She asked me about my family and how my time studying in Senegal affected me. She told her story, saying the words, “I am a survivor of incest and child sexual assault, and this next project #LoveWITHAccountability speaks to that,” and I thought then how unprepared I was to work for her.

When she first told me the next project was focusing on child sexual assault, and she asked me to take notes about specific terms, and write down dates that worked for us to meet again, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had done literature reviews before and child sexual assault was just another topic. I didn’t know what I was doing, and as I redid and reformatted the first document I sent to her – in fact at every step in the project hereafter – I realized more and more the nuances of what I was researching.

“Search combination after combination, across multimedia platforms, throughout history and up to the present,” she told me. “In the future, if you have questions, just ask and don’t hesitate to contact me,” she added and as the search, catalogue and analysis of literature and scholarship on child sexual assault continued to grow, I would come to rely on her heavily for guidance in how to bring shape to the topic as well as what conclusions to draw. In the conversation that changed everything, she told me to look for what wasn’t there and report on that.

~~~

`Child sexual assault Child sexual abuse Child molestation Family sexual assault Family sexual abuse Family sexual molestation Black children sexual assault Black children child sexual abuse Black children molestation’

There was no language for what I was looking for: most disciplines employed pedagogy that was wholly incomplete, and most lay-websites and non-profit organizations seemed too well-armed with binary dialogue to apply the research being done. Personal blogs and sites utilized inflammatory, provocative language, speaking to the multitude of negative constructions with which CSA, its survivors and aggressors live but speaking to the various testimonies of loss and survival so many people had to share. But there was so little! Hours upon hours and hours spent searching all combinations of the terms and I’d still only turned up one half-full excel spreadsheet.

Some searches returned gems and turned up five or ten books and articles investigating the long-term consequences of child sexual assault on health, social and emotional development, risk-behaviors and decisions, as well as family dynamics, while others produced articles only marginally related.

The research left me with several questions. I was out of my depth; I had no frame of reference for how to become approximate to the topic of child sexual assault. I didn’t know how to care and what to do to help. I was confronting a taboo subject and the scarce research findings reflected as much.  But in my conversations with Professor Simmons, and reading the literature, I became so much more well-informed along the way: I learned about the conditions that might incubate child sexual assaults; I learned about the cognitive and social obstacles children must face in order to come forward and use a voice and agency that was taken from them. I learned about the tyranny of silence. The long-term influences on decision-making and long-term effects on relationship evaluating, the struggles and successes of building and maintaining a healthy self-concept and image, and survival techniques of child sexual assault survivors that adapt in adulthood.

Professor Simmons helped me to operationalize what it meant to survive trauma, as a non-linear process, and the key contributions of a community that collectively cares. I knew she was doing honorable work and I, for my part, was helping her. So many times she emphasized accountability, responsibility. Accountability and love, with love, from love and I had no idea what she meant. I thought I did.

~~~

If I developed as a researcher with Professor Simmons, then my progress and development socially and emotionally do not compare. I began this project thinking I was objective and that was the best way to be: I could type in those key words over and over and read the results and testimonies and I could remain attached. But I couldn’t. I began this project, I realized a couple months ago when I first started thinking about what to type, believing I was at the point Professor Simmons was living in: forgiveness and desiring to love with accountability. I discovered I was all but impartial and rather ill-equipped to view survivors and aggressors in an equally loving manner. I demonized the aggressor and called them monsters and thought, “how could they?” and “how could anyone love them?” The more I learned, the more this solid boulder of negativity would coalesce in my stomach and explode in my brain – I, neither a survivor nor aggressor.

Every meeting I had it on the tip of my tongue to ask her if she still managed to be repulsed and if maybe I was too far from this margin to understand the dynamics; I bit my tongue because what if I, in my infinite ignorance, managed to say the wrong thing and offend? Professor Simmons kept emphasizing this “role of the community,” and “accountability,” and “responsibility,” and I would look at her and wonder how she could not be angry and boiling and bitter and hate.

I wondered, “how do you not hate?” Throughout our conversations she answered, working with a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist, one of her teachers, Toni Cade Bambara, sistren, her cultural work, vipassana meditation and sistren, I knew then that if following that truth was healing her and kept bringing her back to this honorable work, that indeed we were no longer student and professor, but mentor and mentee in an intergenerational sisterhood. It was then, at the end of the semester, that she went from Professor Simmons to Aishah.

I understood the scope and the breadth with which Aishah needed to work and in the beginning, and I constantly thought she would “find me out” as one of the people needing her work the most. How ironic? In the beginning I was worrying how to best produce work she might incorporate into her project, and by the end I was strategizing on how to best implement her work into my life, yes specific to child sexual assault in Black communities, but also in attempting to answer the larger question of how do I forgive those who trespass against me and yet exercise a restorative, comprehensive form of justice that allows the process of loss and recovery to take place without marginalizing another?

What are ways we can do this as a community?

~~~

By the end, Aishah challenged me to access healing without hurting and I remembered again how unprepared I was to work for her.


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Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz is a rising senior with a dual major in Education Psychology and Francophone Studies and a concentration in Africana Studies at Williams College. Her research interests include migratory subjectivity, self-determination and rhetoric, and race-based economic discrimination in housing practices. As a Pohlad ScholarQuestbridge Scholar, and co-editor of the Williams College Africana Magazine Kaleido[scopes], Aunrika has expanded her cultural rhetoric studies into West African Francophone communities. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans to pursue a doctorate in Social Psychology and Stratification. She worked as a research assistant to Aishah Shahidah Simmons in Spring 2016.

Love Centered Accountability by Dr. Danielle Lee Moss

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 Dr. Danielle Lee Moss

Childhood sexual abuse. Even for transcendent me, the words sit still and sickening in my throat. Childhood sexual abuse. When I see it written as CSA, my nervous stomach quiets; it gives me the distance I need to tackle the topic. CSA is the dirty secret we gift to our children through our silence, our rage, our shame – over generations. Whether the abusers are family members or authority figures with access to our children, we teach them that sex and feelings and bodies don’t make for polite conversation. We give their genitalia nick names. And, though we have created a sexualized world – a world that has few spaces where children can live free from gender roles, fear, or creeping hands – we remain challenged to speak its existence. Regrettably, our reality is that sometimes, and for the worst reasons, childhood and sex come together. The resulting wounds become permanent because we teach our children that the things that cut into them the most are the things that must not be named, or spoken of, or confronted. In fact, most of childhood pivots around the notion that children are most childlike when they powerless. In fact, the social arrangement relies on children’s ability to “recognize authority”. To date, the United States remains one of only two countries that have failed to ratify the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to UNICEF, among the tenets of this international treaty is a commitment that countries

[…] “must ensure that all children—without discrimination in any form—benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.”[…]

So, what does this mean for loved centered accountability? Most of us don’t understand what this means because accountability and discipline usually show up as punishment and pain in our cultural lexicon. How many of us heard parents say they beat us out of love growing up? We condition our kids to a love/pain connection early on. Embarrassment and humiliation are also deeply wedded to notions of love centered accountability. At home, in school, and even via social media, part of the way we illicit children’s cooperation and compliance is by the fear of public shame. The social contract we’ve created with childhood gives way to a legacy of childhood sexual abuse that is seemingly intractable because it exists in a larger anti-child social context. The shame is multigenerational and supersedes our ability to adequately protect our children. Many survivors talk about the added isolation and rejection they experienced as their brave disclosures went unrecognized. The denial and rejection of brave disclosure is rooted in the same concepts of shame and fear. For many, being brought into the circle of brave disclosure is experienced as the transference of shame, and not the illumination of truth. Despite our failure as a society to adequately address CSA as a problem that cuts across race and class, the reality is that even what goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unrecognized grows roots that sprout and expand and cripple.

A few years ago, I heard a comedian call out childhood sexual abuse in an arena full of people. He was talking about a public rape case that had taken over several news outlets, and he said, “Some of you defending this dude are still scared to go to the family cookout because you know you’re going to see that molester relative there.” The crowd swayed, laughing/not laughing, in palpable discomfort. The joke, which sat in the arena like stinking fog, suggests that accountability is completely out of the question, that the spiritual imbalance of secrecy and shame are members of the family now – although we know that sexual abuse doesn’t always involve relatives. The social contract for CSA survivors and perpetrators – even when they embody the same beings – is silence and distance. What do you do when the people who hurt you the most are part of the very fabric and foundation of your life? When their stories and joys and tears and faith and misery are entwined in the heartbeat of your life? We don’t understand accountability and love as the same, because we are a crime and punishment society. We define and confine people by their worst actions with no roadmap leading back to restoration and redemption. We are so punitive, in fact, that if the person who finds the cure for cancer kills a puppy in the same week, we might be inclined to reject the cure. The extreme polarity of love and accountability make confession and redemption an unimaginable risk, because in the world we live in repentance can never interrupt the abuser scourged identity.

Living in a punitive, crime and punishment society makes the idea of #LoveWITHAccountability almost inconceivable. What on earth would be unearthed if we began to explore this notion in the context of childhood sexual abuse? What would happen if we said to the people who hurt us, who we still by circumstance had to interact with, that the road to healing was awareness, confession, acknowledgement, and restitution? Luckily, everything we live we have created. We are more than capable of creating something different, something courageous. We can tackle our private spaces on this issue in ways that lead to recovery and restoration. This requires brave disclosure, highly visible efforts to right wrongs, and a release from shame. We also have the opportunity to engage in broader, public conversations that allow survivors and abusers and those indirectly effected by CSA to engage in dialogue without the vulnerability and judgement that can come with brave disclosure. Creating a shame free discourse on childhood and power, sexuality, and sexual identity, and bodies and consent is central to clearly the way for #LoveWITHAccountability.

Accountability is the way to loving ourselves and being in meaningful relationship and connection with others. Love is free, but it is not solitary. Love is a binding agreement whose essence is respect, consideration, benevolence, kindness, accountability, and authenticity. Survivors, or transcenders, must first extend this love to themselves. You can’t call on anyone to acknowledge your light until you know what it feels like to be loved by you, to see your own light reflected back at you and to be warmed by its brilliance. Love makes space for truth, and truth is the only way to restorative reconciliation. This is particularly important in cases when abusers and survivors continue to be in relationship. Restorative reconciliation says,

“You did this to me, you are sorry, and neither of us has to be defined by the worst thing you ever did.”

Truth makes forgiveness, even when it is not requested, possible. Because love knows that truth is sometimes a one-sided conversation. It means that transcenders must love themselves unconditionally, courageously, and completely because of who they are, and not because of or in spite of what they’ve been through.


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Dr. Danielle Moss Lee is President and CEO of the YWCA of the City of New York. She was appointed by Mayor DeBlasio to New York City’s Commission on Gender Equity, is Co-Chair of the NY City Council’s Young Women’s Initiative, and President of Black Agency Executives. Her contributions to education and the social sector have been recognized by the New York State Education Department and The New York City Comptroller’s Office, among others. In 2015 The Network Journal named her one of the 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business. Dr. Moss Lee has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Edutopia, The Amsterdam News, and City Limits Magazine. She holds M.A. and Ed.M. degrees from Teachers College Columbia University, where she also completed her Doctorate in Organization and Leadership with a focus on Education Administration. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College with a degree in both English Literature and History with a concentration in Black Studies.

Soul Survivor: Reimagining Legacy by Chevara Orrin

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 Chevara Orrin

I once believed, as I told a reporter,

“He altered my life. Whoever I was to become: I am someone else.”

I now know I am exactly who I was meant to be. In spite of, and because of, my father.

Forgiveness is at the core of the personal work I’ve done for several decades trying to reconcile within my own heart and life my father’s “legacy” and his horrific violations against my sisters and me.

I know well the burden of secrecy, the complexity of family, and the difficulty of speaking truth.

I am a survivor of incest. I am a survivor of sexual and domestic violence. I am a survivor of brutality perpetrated at the hands of Black men. I am also the mother of Black sons. I understand the complexity and challenge of simultaneously being charged with protecting our community and holding our community accountable. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with reconciling my father’s abuse of my body, rape of my soul, destruction of my spirit AND honoring his incredible legacy of social justice and civil rights. I believe there is space for both. One of my sisters reminded us often during our father’s 2008 incest trial,

“We are all better than the worst things we’ve ever done.”

I believe that. I do not believe there is ever any excuse for sexual violence or abuse. This is my truth.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are challenging to navigate, and survivor scars are jagged and deep. Just as my journey has morphed through the years into a search for understanding, love, and truth, it has become important for me to use my voice to build a world in which women and girls are free from violence in all its forms.

This is how my journey of healing began:

The silence was deafening. I couldn’t stop the roaring in my head, fierce pounding of my heart, and angry tears streaming down my cheeks. The silence was unbearable. I couldn’t breathe. I’d waited for this moment most of my life and now he’d robbed me with just three words.

“It. Didn’t. Happen.”

But it did, I remember. His warm breath against my neck, I was terrified when he climbed into my twin bed. His tongue sliding in my ear, whispering that I was a woman now. His coarse hands touching my breastless chest. His semen on my thigh. He slipped out from under my sunflower-covered sheets as silently as he crept in. In a panic, I darted across our bedroom and shook my younger sister until she awakened. We locked ourselves in the bathroom, twisting the old-fashioned key in the latch until it clicked. My tiny body shook while she ran bathwater. We climbed in together and I cried while she tried to wash away the stain of childhood sexual abuse. I was 10.

My father, Rev. James Luther Bevel, described in his Washington Post obituary as a “fiery top lieutenant of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a force behind civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.” My father, a brilliant strategist who initiated some of the most important moments in our history – the Birmingham Children’s Crusadethe Chicago Open Housing Movement, and the first to call for a march from Selma to Montgomery to secure voting rights.

My father, who fought for my freedom before I was even born, molested me.

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Early on, I refused my mother’s gentle suggestion that I speak with a therapist. Sitting silently as the psychologist impatiently checked her watch until the hour elapsed, I buried the dark pain deep in a place that protected and shielded me. For years, I shared with no one. Then, only a few trusted friends. Struggling internally, feeling alone, filled with overwhelming feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, oftentimes destructive and harmful to those I loved most, including myself. I, like so many others, cloaked and veiled my childhood sexual abuse in secrecy and shame.

When I first confronted my father about the incest, I was in my mid 20s, a young single mother of two sons, dedicated to thoughtful, intentional parenting. I was angry and filled with so much hatred towards him then. The abuse informed how I raised my sons in so many ways. When they were little boys, I was determined that they would be feminists, ever mindful that their male privilege demand they stand in solidarity with women and girls, I taught them the language of agency of their bodies. As they entered puberty, I shared sexual violence statistics and told them that many of the girls and women they would encounter throughout their lives would be victims and survivors. We delved deep in our “safe sex” talk. We explored the concept and importance of thoughtful partner intimacy. I shared my own experience with my father in an effort to build understanding and better contextualize for them how I came to be.

I received word my father would be in Memphis for a speaking engagement and called to ask him to meet with me on my terms, in a space that felt safe. When he said, “Yes” without hesitation, I imagined he must have known this day would eventually come. Consumed with hate, my heart heavy, I practiced what I’d been rehearsing in my head for years. I had even thought about the many excuses he’d make. And, how I’d destroy his feeble attempts to absolve himself.

My mother and younger brother came as support. My father sat stoically, legs crossed, on the living room floor, draped in black ministerial garb, wearing a colorful yarmulke. My sons were upstairs, occasionally letting out shrieks of laughter as they played, oblivious in their room.

My voice trembled with anger as 15-years of pain poured fourth. His abandonment as a parent – never providing even the “basics” – food, clothing, shelter. I grew up in abject poverty. Food stamp lines, government-issued powdered milk that never quite dissolved in lukewarm water, welfare worker visits, roaches in the refrigerator. My mom worked multiple low-wage jobs to keep a roof over our heads.

I yelled as I accused him of destroying my life. I stared into an all too familiar face. We share the same rounded nose, full lips, caramel colored skin, and rapid pace of speech. We share the same eyes, including the crease that begins at our inner corner and disappears into high cheekbones. WE WERE NOT THE SAME. I felt overwhelmed.

“You know nothing about me!” “Do you know the day I was born? Do you know my birth date? Do you??”

Unsure why that was suddenly so important.

“You never bandaged a knee, read a book, prepared a meal, sailed a kite, or listened to a piano recital! You weren’t there when I graduated high school or college or when your grandsons were born!” Sobbing, I screamed, “You’ve done NOTHING but rip open my soul!”

My father looked at me with deep intensity, sat silent for a moment, and then leaned close and in a calm, steady voice that I’ve not forgotten said,

“I got you the right to vote.”

When Ava DuVernay’s SELMA debuted last year, I was filled with pride and trepidation. In theatres across the nation, my father was being portrayed by Common, a conscious hip-hop artist and activist I’ve long admired.

I coordinated a citywide effort to view SELMA and honor six African American elected officials who were “firsts,” including our mayor who despite breaking some barriers refused to support a comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance in our city to expand protections for the LGBT community. I chose to highlight the intersection of these movements because that same week Florida celebrated marriage equality, the state in which I now live.

After the screening, more than a hundred of us engaged in intimate dialogue about the film, race relations, intersectional justice, and the current state of violence in our America. A powerful mosaic of our community grappling with many difficult questions and even fewer answers. A few folks alluded to the “controversy” surrounding my father’s incest “accusations.”

I am mindful that the Movement looms much larger than my father or his work, but I also know that there were men of the Movement who marginalized women and created space for various types of abuses, oftentimes not upholding the very principles upon which they stood. Some of the same men that viewed the accountability we demanded of our father as an assault on the Movement.

By the time he died of stage IV pancreatic cancer during the incest trial, I thought I had it all worked out. I’ve since discovered it’s a continuum. I’d not been angry with him for many years before the trial, but intense hurt and lingering questions hindered resolution. A few years ago, I saw “Mighty Times: The Children’s March” which tells the story of my father initiating and executing the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, and I couldn’t get through the award-winning documentary without crying. I rarely question the universe but that day, I did.

When I was a little girl, I often wondered how any human so filled with brilliance and love for humankind, so gifted by God, could be so flawed. Unsure of what emotions might arise watching SELMA, I was overcome with sadness each time his “face” appeared on screen.

Truth is complex. Yes, my father secured my right to vote and he also took away part of that freedom. I wonder if we both paid too high a price.

Filled with fury, I finally unleashed what I had only shared with a trusted few… 

“You climbed into my bed. Your semen was on my thigh. I was a little girl. I am your daughter.”

Ready for anything he might say, I took a deep breath and stared into his eyes. He simply looked at me with a calm defiance for which I was unprepared and said.

“It. Didn’t. Happen.”

After my father’s funeral, a journalist asked if I loved him. Speechless because I had never pondered the question, I responded a few days later.

“I do love my father. I love him for the sacrifices he made that have enabled me to enjoy political freedom and social justice. I love him for his role in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the vote I was able to cast that helped put a Black man in the White House.” It is also that love that gave me the strength to sit in a courtroom.

I sometimes think about the conversations we’ll never have. The intersection of our justice work on which we might have collaborated had he been willing to hold himself to truth. For me, the incest trial was never about vengeance or punitive justice. I wanted my father to be held accountable through the prism of love and truth, the community safe from sexual predators and healing…for my little girl self and my sisters.

My father is maybe not the monster I once believed him to be, more simply a man with human frailty, sexually abused as a child himself, trapped in a past from which he never healed, incapable of facing himself in the end. My life forever shaped in immeasurable ways by the fiery, best parts of him – the pieces of love, resilience, and brilliance that helped him shape a Movement. My life altered by his violation and strengthened by my resolve to reimagine love and legacy, and use the horror of my abuse in ways that are healing and empowering for me.

I am not nor will I ever be destined to live a legacy I despise. I have discovered that the complexity and constant evolution is real and worth exploring despite the pain.

I have chosen to use this experience and ongoing healing journey to stand for others who have yet to find their voice. This is #LoveWITHAccountability.


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Chevara Orrin is a community catalyst, social entrepreneur, public speaker and justice activist in Jacksonville, Florida. Born the daughter of a white, Jewish mother and Black father, both human and civil rights activists, Chevara’s work in both the nonprofit, education and creative spheres has been shaped by her passion for equality, diversity and inclusion. In her current role as Chief Creative Catalyst for Collective Concepts, she is best known for having conceived and co-created We Are Straight Allies www.wearestraightallies.com, a national campaign to support LGBT equality and passage of comprehensive policies that protect the LGBT community. The award-winning campaign has drawn the participation of prominent figures such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Olympic gold medalist and civil rights attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar and nationally recognized corporate leaders. Chevara is also founder of #WhiteAndWokewww.whiteandwoke.org, a campaign designed to raise awareness among white people and create action to dismantle institutional racism and its corresponding white privilege.

Chevara’s professional portfolio includes more than 20 years of successful leadership in the arts and education. She serves on a wide range of community boards and has received numerous awards and recognition for her work. Chevara is also a cohort in the 2016-2017 Strategic Diversity Inclusion and Management Program at Georgetown University.

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Chevara is an outspoken advocate for the eradication of sexual violence against women and girls. In 2008, she founded WhiteSpace SafeSpace, a monthly support group and forum for incest survivors and is currently co-producing a documentary about her journey and breaking the cycle of abuse.

Digging Up the Roots: An Introduction to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum

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 Aishah Shahidah Simmons

[…]Black children have another burden. “Culturally, there’s this fear of betraying the family by turning someone in to the system,” Robin Stone [author of No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Child Sexual Abuse] says. Families try to cope, “and meanwhile the offender is left to continue to offend. They really do operate in silence. It’s the silence and secrecy that enables them to thrive.”

An uncle molested her when she was a child, she says. Two decades later, she told her parents. “I had the opportunity presented to me to tell what happened. It was at my going-away party. The party was to be at this uncle’s house. I said, ‘I don’t want to go,’ and my parents asked why.”

Stone’s parents believed her. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a Philadelphia filmmaker, says her parents did not.

[…]”Why am I protecting a family member? Because I haven’t confronted him, that’s why. I feel like if I had confronted him, then I would feel OK,” Simmons says during a recent trip to Los Angeles. “To put it out there without even talking with him….”

Why coddle a black man who hurt her?

That’s a question for many African American women.[…]

Two weeks ago, my sister-comrade Heidi R. Lewis and I came across the excerpted online version of Gail Pollard-Terry’s July 20, 2004, Los Angeles Times For African American rape victims, a culture of silence article when we were preparing our article Honoring Black Resistance Without Supporting Nate Parker for The Feminist Wire.

I was stunned while reading my words.

Twelve years ago in 2004 I was in the last stages of completing my film NO! The Rape Documentary about intra-racial adult heterosexual rape in Black communities in the United States, and yet, I was not able to publicly delve deep about my molestation as a child.

The uncanny irony is that in addition to my being unapologetically out as a lesbian, I have also been consistently public about my incest and rape survivor identities any and everywhere for over two decades. I frequently gave and give detailed public talks about my rape during my sophomore year in college, but up until recently, I never spoke publicly about my incest. It was “I am a Black feminist lesbian incest and rape survivor.” All I could do was name “incest,” without describing it.

Fast forward to late February 2010 when white queer feminist sibling survivor Jennifer (Jennye) Patterson asked me if I would contribute an essay about my child sexual abuse for her anthologyQueering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti Violence Movement (QSV). I didn’t know Jennye very well and she definitely didn’t know the details of my incest herstory.  She reached out to me both because of my film NO!’s impact on her life, but also because of my publicly identifying as an incest survivor. I was both horrified and terrified at the thought. I essentially told her that I would consider the invitation but very seriously doubted that I would be able to participate. Less than one month later in March 2010, my paternal (step)grandfather’s life was in grave danger. My grandfather was also the man who molested me repeatedly over a period of two-years from the ages of ten to twelve. I played a pivotal role in saving my grandfather’s life until his stepson, my father, and his daughter, my aunt, could come to Philadelphia from their respective homes. If I had to do it again, I am unequivocal that I would do it again. These are some of the many complexities that many child sexual abuse survivors hold every single day of our lives.

My grandfather’s illness and subsequent demise was a major turning point in my life. It also coincided with the 50th Anniversary Conference of the founding of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was held at Shaw University from April 18-20, 2010. This incredible multi-day celebration paid homage to those courageous women and men who literally put their lives on the line to demand racial justice in the United States. I attended this celebration with my divorced parents. They were courageous foot soldiers who were on the SNCC frontlines in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Atlanta. Their commitment to struggle for marginalized and oppressed people throughout the world has been continuous for almost 54-years and counting. They are each the embodiment of  Miss Ella Baker’s words “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

It’s quite karmic that it was at the SNCC 50th Anniversary Conference that I unearthed a muted awareness that a grave injustice had been done to me not solely by my grandfather, but also by my parents.

I began taking the small steps, which over time became giant strides and leaps in honor of my own rebirthing process. I took an unflinching look at my incest herstory and the joint parental encouraged and also required engagement with my grandfather who molested me (without their ever holding him accountable). What happened to me was egregious and it became horrific because nothing was ever done.  My film NO! probably wouldn’t exist had I not been molested. NO! probably wouldn’t exist without the hardcore support that I received from both of my parents, especially my father in terms of consistent emotional and psychic support throughout the journey.  How do I hold all of these contradictions and complexities?

Two years later in 2012, I was invited to attend and participate in the Ms. Foundation for Womensponsored and hosted gathering organized by Pat Eng and Monique Hoeflinger for (predominantly) women of color and gender queer of color activist-leaders who work on ending child sexual abuse. It was there that I had the opportunity to meet and engage with some incredible survivor activists-leaders of color including – Mia MingusAmita Swadhin, and Sujatha Baliga who have since become friends, comrades, sibling survivor lifelines when I was drowning in the incest-ocean, and co-conspirators on this journey to heal ourselves while we work to address and end child sexual abuse attrocities.

#LoveWITHAccountability was conceived and born out of my own personal child sexual abuse healing work.

Three years after the Ms. Foundation for Women convening in mid-January 2015, I rose up out of my almost daily fetal position resulting from postponed or denied parental responses to my requests to talk about the impact of my wearing a mask about the details of my molestation as a child and my being taught and encouraged to love and engage with my harm doer without his ever being held accountable during the two years of my molestation and for twenty-nine (29) years after it stopped without any warning (which meant for years I never knew if it would happen again). During a period of several months in 2015, I began signing my emails both pleading and demanding for a conversation about what did not happen, with “Love WITH Accountability” at the end of almost every single communiqué with my mother and my father. I needed to emphasize that while I love them deeply and dearly, I would no longer sacrifice or suffocate myself in the name familial love. Additionally, love could no longer be used as a shield from being held accountable for what did not happen. I rewrote the chapter that was originally scheduled to be published in Queering Sexual Violence because what I previously submitted was not my most authentic truth. I was still hiding and protecting my parents, not my grandfather who is an ancestor, but my parents.

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I will not write my survivor testimony in detail in this introduction because it, along with many powerful testimonies about sexual violence and healing, is included in the Queering Sexual Violence anthology. My chapter is titled Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric Silence Breaker.

What I am examining in my personal life in 2016 is that there is probably no single event greater than my molestation and my parental forced/encouraged engagement with the man (my step-grandfather) that I both loved deeply for decades and also feared for years that has defined everything my life. This includes my rape, pregnancy, and safe and legal abortion during my sophomore year in college, my feminist queer and anti-rape activism, my twenty plus years work with a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual trauma, the twelve years it took me to make my film NO!, my fourteen-year practice of vipassana meditation, most of my published writings and speeches, and now, finally, #LoveWITHAccountability. Since the early 1990s, I’ve been pruning in the gender based-violence forest, but it wasn’t until the past twenty months that I was able to cultivate the strength to dig up my child sexual abuse roots.

When child sexual abuse occurs and victim-survivors speak out about it as children and also as adults, there is often a what I call a “greater issue” clause that victim-survivors and their allies are frequently asked if not required to consider and factor before we can address the child sexual abuse. This is especially painful in Black communities and other communities of color because we know first-hand how horrific the impact of societal silence about racism and white supremacy is on our daily lives. And yet, many still enforce communal silence about intra-racial molestation, rape, and other forms of sexual violence in the name of family loyalty, and racial solidarity.

“The greater issue” (family, race, nation, family, political/civic/religious institutions) clause frequently silences, marginalizes, and endangers the most vulnerable who are often children, women, and femmes

Given all of our heightened awareness about documented state sanctioned white supremacist violence against and murders of Black people in the United States, it is definitely a painful struggle to point out that addressing and ending gender-based violence is not a deterrent from the “greater issue” that is plaguing Black communities. It’s devastating that child sexual abuse, adult rape and other forms of gender-based violence aren’t often viewed as “real” issues that are also destroying our communities like racism and white supremacy. The same must also be said about ableism. It wasn’t until I read the Harriet Tubman Collective’s powerful “Disability Solidarity: Completing the Vision for Black Lives” statement that I realized that I had a responsibility to widen my lens that I thought was fairly wide.

We cannot wait until the police and white citizens “Stop Killing Black People” before we address child sexual abuse, adult rape, and ableism in our communities. We must tackle all of these issues and many more simultaneously. If racism and white supremacy ended right now (and I wish they would), diasporic Black children, women, femmes, trans, and men inclusive of all physical abilities and sexualities would still not be safe from intra-racial sexual violence in our communities.

In response to these decades long struggles that Black survivors have waged, the #LoveWITHAccountability forum unapologetically places child sexual abuse in diasporic Black communities at the center. When I reached out to individuals to contribute to the #LoveWITHAccountability forum, I didn’t fully grasp that I asked the contributors to accomplish what took me five years to do in less than two months. It was tough ask and not an easy one for many. Despite this, almost everyone who said, “Yes” to my invitation pushed themselves to dig deep and share.

The contributors are an intergenerational group of cisgender, transgender, gender queer, and gender non-conforming people of African descent. Regardless of if our first language is English, Spanish, Creole, Patois, or Kreyol, we are all Black in this forum. This is intentional because child sexual abuse is as much a racial justice issue  as it is a gender-based violence issue. Child sexual abuse is an egregious injustice that we can no longer continue to sideline in Black communities in the name of a “greater issue.”

I asked each of the contributors to consider the following questions when writing their “peace.”

  1. How can we transform societal understanding that accountability is a radical form of love, most especially around child sexual abuse?
  2. What does accountability look like when tackling child sexual abuse?
  3. Can we have accountability around child sexual abuse without punitive justice?
  4. What does restorative and transformative justice look like to you?

There isn’t unanimity with the vision for how we can address child sexual abuse. Instead, each of the contributor’s writings provide road maps to ways that we can reflect upon and continue to consider various ways to act to end this global pandemic through the lived experiences and advocacy work of diasporic Black people in the United States.

I believe we have to interrogate the “Lock up the perpetrators of child sexual abuse (and throw away the keys)” stance.  Who are the perpetrators? Are the perpetrators only the ones who molest and rape children? What about all of the bystanders who know but look the other way or even deny that harm was committed? What do we do with the bystanders? If we factor in that there are approximately 42 million multi-racial survivors of child sexual abuse in the United States, we are talking about millions of people who are involved with either allowing the abuse to happen or covering up the abuse that happened?

I do not believe prisons will stop child sexual abuse or adult rape. Children and adults are raped in prisons. I believe people who commit harm must be held accountable.

What can accountability look like in the absence of prisons? How can we explore this while ensuring that the needs of child sexual abuse survivors are placed at the center of this work? Can we guarantee that they will be safe from harm? Is this a process that survivors want to engage in? These are questions that many individuals whose work and activism precedes my own by decades have been interrogating and exploring.

There are 29 contributions that The Feminist Wire will publish over ten days (not including the weekend) from October 17, 2016 – October 28, 2016. Several articles, poems and other creative expressions include fairly detailed testimonies about the sexual harm that the contributors’ experienced by trusted and even beloved family/caregivers when they were children and teens. This is part of the process needed to explore movement forward on the survivor journey. All of the articles offer insights about the healing journey, justice, and some form of love with accountability. While the  majority are child sexual abuse survivors, everyone participating in the forum isn’t. One of the contributors is my mother, which is a very new development in response to our experiencing a seismic healing shift over the past two months. This is personal is political work.

Independent of if a survivor testimony is included in an article or not, there will be a standard content notice that precedes every single contribution in this forum. It is of the utmost importance to me and all of the managing and associate editors at The Feminist Wire that our readers take care of themselves while engaging with this forum.

You may want to read the articles alone or in community with others. You may not be able to read everything during the ten days of the forum or read anything right now. Do not worry if that’s the case. The afterword will include an index of all of the contributions with active hyperlinks. You can read and also revisit them when you are able and ready.

It is my affirmation that every single one of us will begin to consistently refrain from marginalizing or worse, condoning child sexual abuse, or any other form of gender-based violence in the name of the “greater issue.” Having your body violated and invaded against your will as a child and also as an adult is a critical issue that must be addressed. We should not have to be murdered in order for our communities to believe that harm has been committed. For many survivors of child sexual abuse, physical death is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to us especially when we have to engage with our harm doers over and over and over and over again without any form of accountability.

Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” Toni Cade BambaraThe Salt Eaters

Without community there is no liberation only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression ~ Audre Lorde,The Cancer Journals

I firmly believe that in addition to addressing racism and white supremacy in the United States and globally, we must also address child sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence in our families, our communities, and our religious, academic, political, and civic institutions. If we don’t, we will never ever be well, be free, or even liberated. The #LoveWITHAccountability forum is a compassionate call to action to end child sexual abuse.

This forum wouldn’t exist without the support of so many whose names I will call in the Afterword to this forum. In the interim, I express my deep gratitude to beloved TFW friends/comrades and dear interns, who, in different ways, are supporting the publication of the forum. Roll call (in alphabetical order by first name): Angela Kong, Heidi Lewis, Heather Laine Talley, Heather Turcotte, Jade Frost, Jazlyn Andrews, Monica Casper, Tamura Lomax, and TC Tolbert. I am also deeply grateful for my cherished friend Joan Brannon whose sacred space in the woods provided the unexpected sanctuary that I needed to write, rest, recuperate and rejuvenate. I first met Joan almost exactly twenty years ago in 1996. Since that time she edited my short video In My Father’s House and she was an associate editor producer, co-writer, and the director of photography of NO! It’s very special that I am in Joan’s space during the launch of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum.

Last and most certainly never least, this forum would not exist were it not for the writings by all of the contributors. I bow deep to every single one of these very dear and most committed individuals for not only their powerful writings and work in the world, but also for tolerating my persistent “reminder” emails, texts, suggested edits and revisions. Thank you.

Roll call (in alphabetical order by first name): Adenike and Peter Harris, Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Alicia Sanchez Gill, Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, C. Nicole Mason, Cecelia Falls, Chevara Orrin, Cyree Jarelle Johnson, Danielle Lee Moss, e nina jay, Ferentz LaFargue, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons,  Ignacio Rivera, Kai M. Green, Kimberly Gaubault, Liz S. Alexander, Loretta J. Ross, Luz Marquez-Benbow, Lynn Roberts, MiKeiya Morrow, Qui Dorian Alexander, Sikivu Hutchinson, T. Kebo Drew, Tashmica Torok, Thea Matthews, Tonya Lovelace, Thema S. Bryant-Davis, Worokya Duncan, Zoe Flowers, and the Afterword.

For the future generations…


Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe 

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe 

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian incest and rape survivor, award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, and activist. She is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, where she is also affiliated with the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. She is the creator of the film NO! The Rape Documentary and the #LoveWITHAccountability project. An associate editor of The Feminist Wire, Aishah has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. You can follow both #LoveWITHAccountability and Aishah on twitter @loveaccountably and @Afrolez.