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


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


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


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


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 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.”

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.


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.

“The Least of These”: Black Children, Sexual Abuse, and Theological Malpractice by Ahmad Greene-Hayes

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 Ahmad Greene-Hayes

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25:40

On Friday, August 26th, Georgia pastor Kenneth Mack was arrested on one count of aggravated child molestation. This same “pastor” preached homophobic sermons and said the Pulse victims deserved to die. Yet, he is a child molester and a rapist. Mack, however, is not an anomaly; in fact, he represents much of what the church stands for: hypocrisy coupled with holiness or hell theologies that conceal unethical sexual acts and demonize marginalized bodies.

Mack, like so many others who wear sacred collars, desecrate churches and the gospel with their unrelenting commitments to sexual violence. Without doubt, our society perpetuates rape culture, but many of the church’s religious leaders prey on those who often cannot pray for themselves. They also theologically nurture and coddle those who violate children, women, and queer folks, and we must reckon with the reality that survivors of sexual abuse sit in pews and preach in pulpits, often with their harm doers in plain view.

Yet (Black) churches are largely silent. Indeed, the collective silence—from adults, from the village, from the elders—is deafening even as childhood screams, hollers, and pleas to live unbothered and untouched by the perversion of child sexual abuse blare the silences.

Several visual texts, such as Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou (1997), Michael Schlutz and T.D. Jakes’Woman, Thou Art Loosed (2004), Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned (2009), and Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer (2012), explore the everydayness of child sexual abuse in black communities. Most recently, Greenleaf (2016), on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), delves into the topic of CSA (child sexual abuse) in a black mega church community in Memphis, Tennessee. Winfrey, a child sexual abuse and rape survivor, plays the role of Mavis McCready and gives her niece Grace the push she needs to expose all the lies and sexual traumas hidden in the physical and psychic archives of the church’s history. One such task is bringing her Uncle Mack to heel for sexually assaulting her sister Faith (who committed suicide), and several other girls in the church and the Memphis community. Like most Black churches and Black families, however, no one in the fictionalized account wants to talk about sexual violence, just like no one is talking about the real-life Mack mentioned in my opening.

Child sexual abuse in Black communities is an epidemic. Black Women’s Blueprint reports that 60% of Black girls have been raped before age 18, and studies show that one out of six boys are sexually assaulted. And we know without doubt that many of these assaults happen in churches or with proximity to churches and church people. As such, I have several questions…

What do we do when the violence is found among those who are “sanctified”?

Where is God when (Black) children are sexually assaulted? Or perhaps a more poignant question is does God condone the sexual violation of children? “God Help The Child,” prays Toni Morrison, but God does not help the child when the child is victim to child sexual abuse. How can Emmanuel, or God with us, bear witness to such pervasive and unchecked evil and not be moved to act justly on the behalf of the child survivor? And if God is on the side of the oppressed, as James H. Coneand others have argued, where is God when (Black) children are hurt by those who introduced them to “God”?


With regards to child sexual abuse, my work as the founder of Children of Combahee and as a scholar of religion has three aims. First, I am building a canon of thought in the study of Black religion and theology that names sexual violence as sexual “deviance,” and reconsiders longstanding pathologies which situate homosexuality, gender nonconformity, womanhood and other marginalized sexual/gender identities as not only “deviant,” but subservient to Black malecisheteropatriarchy. Second, I am deconstructing the myth that queer subjects—both within and outside of the Black church—are queer because of sexual abuse, and am offering new ways of thinking about “pathology” and “perversion” within the Black church. Third, I contend that lived experience, personal testimony, and psychic realities are both worthy and befitting of critical theological attention and engagement, in part, because most survivor narratives never make it into academic or church archives, even as the assaults and the remembrances and effects of the assaults are archived (or repressed) within survivors’ minds.

It is important to note that many of the terminologies used in my written and vocal work are terms that are never spoken in many Black religious spaces. “Consent” is assumed, but it is never taught. “Rape” is alluded to but it is never acknowledged. The “survivor” is shunned, while the overcomer is praised. These terms, however, function as guiding principles in the fight to end sexual violence. I believe wholeheartedly that Black sexuality, gender identity, and sexual violence cannot be freely and expressly understood or discussed within Black churches, until the church catches up to the mainstream discourse on human sexuality (and even the mainstream discourse lags behind those who are survivors, queer, trans, women, and femme). These words are prominent in social justice spaces, antirape organizations, and in other medical and legal entities, but they are often absent from the church, even as survivors fill pews and pulpits.

If we believe that the Black church is a central site of influence in many Black communities, though scholars like Eddie Glaude have argued, “the Black church is dead,” we must continue to question why “consent,” “rape,” and “survivor” are not a part of the Black churchgoing population’s vocabulary. We must also evaluate whether pastors and leaders in the church have the tools to work through sexual violence theologically, ethically, and within cultural context.

Call me heretical but I do not believe that the Bible is a reliable resource in this regard, lest it be consulted through a womanist queer theological lens. I also contend that sexual violence cannot be eradicated until the church acknowledges the way it sanitizes Biblically-sanctioned rape, even as it manipulates scripture to demonize queer and transgender people, to subject women and children to patriarchal men and leaders, and to protect and cover the tracks of rapists.

Victim shaming and queerantagonism are active evils in the life of many Black churches. My work calls them both into question, not to pathologize survivors and/or queer people, but to understand how white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, and the workings of the State have altered the ways Black people wrestle with racial-sexual terrorism.

Many survivor-activists have pushed Black churches to think about its complicity in the rape and sexual assault of countless women, men, children, gender nonconforming, queer, transgender, and poor Christians and non-Christians, and yet, the Black church continues to turn a blind eye to the reality of racial-sexual violence. Monica Coleman’s The Dinah Project—both the book and organization—intervenes in a history that registers unchecked sexual violence and illicit sexual behavior as standard, if not normative, alongside patriarchy and cisheterosexism.

Every congregation contains victims of sexual violence. Every church with women, men, boys, girls, or the elderly contains victims of sexual violence. Whether an individual confides in the church leaders, family, or friends, or chooses to remain silent, there is no church void of the people whose lives are changed by experiences of sexual violence. Because every church contains persons affected by sexual violence, the church must respond. Because sexual violence affects every aspect of our communities, including our religious and spiritual lives, the church must respond. Because silence is a response of tolerance, the church must respond (Coleman, 4).

If the church is filled with so many survivors of sexual violence, why then does the church lack urgency and conviction in the fight to eradicate the unholy and perverse reality of sexual abuse?

Perhaps it is because (Black) churches are more concerned with the sexual practices, behaviors, and orientations of its constituents that are nonheterosexual, nonnormative, and/or disruptive to puritanical notions of sacred, holy, and virtuous (see Kelly Brown Douglas, 1999). Among many things, “the politics of respectability” as defined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and “the culture of dissemblance” as told by Darlene Clark Hine (pdf) explicate the ways Black church people have used silence as a means of protection from white racial-sexual terrorists. To mitigate the effects of white supremacist violence, many African Americans do not address intracommunal violence, and in some instances extracommunal violence, because they do not want to portray the race in a negative light or they want to be race loyal, or even race first, everything later. These patterns are deadly and send a loud message that racial justice takes precedence over the justice that every individual deserves in regards to their bodies and psyches—regardless of age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other marginalized identity.

The inability (or unwillingness) to address sexual violence as an evil that pervades home, church and community is steeped in larger cultural “norms,” though abnormal, of cogitatively dissociating one’s lived experience—in Black flesh—from one’s embodied and experienced sexuality. In other words, the inability to address violence and trauma as it relates to Black sexuality can be traced back to the plantation where rape and torture were codified by law and the theologies of the master class. In some ways, the contemporary Black church—which grew out of enslavement—mirrors the plantation of times past, and survivors are pushing the church to consider its reinscription of master tactics—that is , attempts to abuse, silence, marginalize, shame, victimize, and dehumanize marginal subjects, or as Jesus said, “the least of these.”

Until Black churches are honest about human sexuality and our collective discomfort with it, sexual violence will remain unchecked and accountability will be nothing more than a goal to be obtained in the afterlife. But if we believe Jesus’ words, “thy kingdom come and thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we must also believe that God is looking to the church to conjure justice for survivors right now. Indeed, hell is a present reality, and heaven is too far.

If you are interested in joining the fight against CSA in Black church communities, please consider registering for Children of Combahee’s upcoming town hall on Saturday, October 29th at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York.

From Pew To Pulpit: Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Speak:


Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Princeton University, where he is also pursuing graduate certificates in African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include Black religion(s), African American Pentecostalism, queer theory, Gender and Sexuality in the Black church, and 19th-20th century African American religious history. He is a Mellon Mays fellow and holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Africana Studies from Williams College. Using oral histories, performance studies, and other archival materials, his senior honors thesis entitled, “Black Pentecostal Touch: Sexual Abuse, Queerantagonism, and (Un)holy Hands,” examined how Black religiosity, within the context of Black Pentecostal churches, responds to gendered and sexualized Black trauma. Currently, he also serves as the founder of Children of Combahee, a newfound initiative to end child sexual abuse in black churches via the Just Beginnings Collaborative. He is also the founder of #BlackChurchSex on Twitter and writes regularly on race, gender, sexuality, politics, and religion at,, The Feminist Wire, and other outlets.