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 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.

A Network of Care by Alicia Sanchez Gill

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 Alicia Sanchez Gill

I know something about trauma. And I’ve known too much about pain for too long. From the moment I experienced the first daggers of sexual abuse at age seven, until last night, when I responded to an email from a stranger requesting resources for a child sexual abuse survivor in their life, my work has centered around my own experiences of harm, and the experiences of survivors who are a lot like me. As a queer, person of color, a survivor of child sexual abuse (living at the intersection of many identities both tangible and intangible) and as a social worker whose life has focused squarely on anti-violence and healing, I often think about the ways survivors heal and resist. In a world that tells us to shrink, a society that tells us we don’t have a right to exist, or do this work, or be the experts on our own lives, we are still here. We create meaning and find hope in our interdependence.

My understanding of abuse is deeply shaped by my own values and my narrative, but also by the stories of the hundreds of hotline calls I have answered, folks I have worked with in support groups, friends, and friends of friends who have bravely and sometimes desperately shared their stories with me. Looking for answers. Hoping for healing. Searching for a more just world, however they might create it. Our stories are woven together in a web of mutual care. What I have learned is that our stories become catalysts for change. What I have learned is that our individual and collective healing takes a network of care, support, and speaking the unspoken.

Child sexual abuse, by its very nature, demands shame and isolation. Our abusers manipulated our voices and then counted on our silence, and the silence of those around us. It is complex because we know that our abusers are often the folks who are closest to us—the ones who are supposed to keep us safe. The ones who look like us and speak our language in a world where we are so often “othered.” It is confusing because our abusers hurt us and then helped us finish science projects, or took us to church or bought us ice cream. It hurts because our abusers are still here, at Sunday dinners, at graduations, at holiday gatherings. For many survivors, the devastating negotiation of speaking our truth and losing loved ones or remaining silent is a choice we should never have had to make. The radical, loving choice for those around us is to dismantle our “culture of quiet.”

I want to vision a place where children are protected from violence and a place where children are supported the very first time they experience harm. I want to vision a place where parents and teachers have paid sick leave, and living wages, and time to be attune to their children’s and student’s needs and behaviors. A place where families aren’t ripped apart through deportations, policing, and a carceral state. I want to vision a place where the protection of children is community-led, not institutionalized. Where child safety, health and well-being is not placed solely on the shoulders of women and femmes.

Networks of care for our children, and for the adults who have survived means creating community-based responses to violence. Responses which do not engage in punitive justice, but hold perpetrators accountable and keep survivors safe. It allows us to wrestle with dichotomies of good/bad, and the various complexities and nuances of the communities with whom we are engaged. This may involve affirming church communities, it may involve family, and friends. We are often the first people child sexual abuse survivors go to when they tell, both as adults and in childhood—families, friends, partners, co-workers. Believing survivors, being prepared and utilizing all of our resources in a coordinated, safe way, we can help survivors feel seen and heard, and protect the children who have yet to come.

Recently, I watched a terrifying, but fascinating video of fire ants. These ants work together so closely and in such a coordinated way, that they become a moving, protected, semi-solid structure. And yet, when a barrier falls in their way, like a tree branch, they are able to navigate around the barrier in a way that behaves almost like water. And not one ant got left behind. What if our networks of care could be like the fire ants? Solid, and coordinated, but adaptable and responsive to need? Our networks of care center around safety, rehabilitation, accountability and healing—creating communities where child sexual abuse is no longer tolerated, and in fact, eradicated. Where those of us who have survived are not left to pick up the pieces of our shame alone, but are met with a chorus of “we believe you” and “it’s not your fault.” Networks of care recognize that when violence happens, the whole community needs healing.

For those of us who never told, or told and weren’t believed, for those of us who were left unprotected, we know the swelling of betrayal that rises up in our throats. Our stories are powerful calls to action. Our stories allow us to connect to one another, and name our abuse and our abusers. Our stories are grounded in love for ourselves and our communities. Our stories help make manifest the world we want to see. It is through these deep and meaningful connections, these networks of care, that I was able to come back from my darkest edges, and begin healing.What I have learned from survivors is that it is our interdependence that will save us.


Alicia Sanchez Gill is a queer, Afro latinx survivor. She has many years of engaging in intersectional work through various gender-based violence, HIV, and LGBTQ programs and has many more years of experience tending to her heart and the hearts of those closest to her. She has been responsible for crisis intervention with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and folks experiencing acute mental health crises, sex work organizing and HIV housing advocacy and now focuses on research because no one else can tell our stories like we can.

Alicia holds a masters of social work and has conducted research and policy writing on reproductive justice, the intersections of HIV and intimate partner violence, trauma-informed care, street-based economies, and harm-reduction models. She believes data can help tell our stories and can be both accessible and impactful. She is deeply committed to dismantling oppression, uplifting solidarity across identities, and helping to collectively shape a more just world.

Social Silence & Child Sexual Abuse by Cyree Jarelle Johnson

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 Cyree Jarelle Johnson

TW: Child Sexual Abuse, Ableism, Suicide

I didn’t start talking until I was approaching five years old. This is not uncommon for some people with autism and its associated disorders, but it is relatively uncommon for people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, a criteria of being diagnosed is that there are no significant delays in language. It’s one of the myths of the disease; what does “significant” even mean? Others myths paint autistic children as cold and unloving, violent and defiant, and less intelligent than their peers. Like many children with Asperger’s, I was a creature of obsession: blue whales; the sea in general; and as I grew older, Greek mythology—particularly that material myth, Socrates.

Sometimes obsession leads me to re-read Plato’s Symposium and cry; more often it looks like quoting Socrates and visiting his bust at The Met. I was recounting my interest in Socrates recently, during a meet and greet for incoming MFA students at Columbia, when my classmate looked over at me, with a grin on his face. Didn’t Socrates diddle little boys? he half asked, half accused. Of course, the answer is yes. The ancient Greeks were invested in a cultural pederasty that, in their society, defined romantic norms. Pederasty was a social phenomenon, embedded in their myths, their men, and their Gods.

Yet, I take issue with my classmate’s question, one meant to cast history as a tragedy that has ended. Questions like that ignore that Americans also have a culture of child predation — we just prefer to look away. As a Black person, I know that child molestation and child sexual abuse are embedded within our culture. It’s in the silence around Michael Jackson’s terrible personal boundaries, and numerous accounts of child molestation. It’s the people still willing to defend him against these still mounting claims in the present day. It reappears when we can still dance to new music by R. Kelly, a man known to prowl high schools and shopping malls for teenage girls, offering them gifts in exchange for sex. The same man miraculously acquitted of raping his own teenage goddaughter not so long ago.

Even without any famous examples we can look to our family reunions, cultural events, places of worship, and homes to find evidence of this culture. We can look to our neighbors and friends for proof. Sexual violence is part and parcel of the emotional and social violence that occur within our communities. My initial inability to tell anyone about the sexual abuse I was experiencing at the hands of an elderly female neighbor created the perfect environment for it to continue. My family didn’t run to check on me because they were simply relieved to be rid of me for a while.

Autistic children are accused of being burdens to our parents and families. We are asked to be thankful when we are not murdered by their hands. We are asked to keep still when we stim, calm down during a meltdown, be quiet when we are echolalic, and stop any ticks or repetitive movements that adults find objectionable. These messages are violent, and justify violence against autistic people. These beliefs allow child sexual abuse to continue. When we ask children to be things that they are not, and to create themselves in ways that we deem appropriate, we communicate the message that what we want for their bodies is more important than their self-determination. If we truly want to end child sexual abuse, we need to recognize the autonomy of children over their own bodies. That doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want, it simply recognizes that they have the final say over their bodies when safety is not a concern. It insists that a child that flaps their hands, doesn’t speak at all, won’t make eye contact, or never stops talking doesn’t need to be “fixed” just because adults don’t like the behavior. My family and community would have needed to revise the way they thought of me to make space for my agency before they could effectively demand accountability from the woman who molested me.

Personally, I believe that the accountability model is a conservative and confessional one. It stops at the level of admitting to the violence – an important step, but only the first one. When I hear about “community accountability,” what is meant is that the whole community will work to hold a single person “accountable” to a harmful action or series of actions. This model forgets that abuse thrives in silence and isolation. Silence and isolation can only occur when a community turns away from great injustice. Thus whole communities are implicated in all instances of child sexual abuse. I don’t need anyone to confess their guilt publicly, I already know who harmed me, and in many cases, so does everyone else. I need a community where everyone recognizes the role they played in that violation.

One reason why communities, a word I mean here as some amorphous combination of families, neighbors, congregations of faith or worship, and institutions such as school or local government, choose to ignore child sexual abuse is because the response is assumed to be necessarily punitive and to require an overwhelming amount of evidence to prove. Nobody wants Uncle Jerome to do jail time. How can you prove the pastor touched you? Aren’t you too young to even know what rape is? The victim is punished because the perpetrator is unavailable to punish, or too important to punish. The victim is of no importance because they are sullied by the crime, and suspect just for telling someone. Instead of radical communities consistently asking for ways to make child sexual abuse accountability less punitive for those who perpetuate it, I would like to first see it become less punitive for the children who have endured it.

What would it take to restore communities after child sexual abuse is reparations? I don’t think that these must necessarily be monetary, but a recognition that something material is taken in acts of great violence is important. If communities provide CSA survivors with somatics or therapy, people may be less likely to continue the cycle of abuse, and could heal from the addictions and harmful coping mechanisms that often come with having experienced violence. If communities paid for training or education for CSA survivors, we could gain a new dream in exchange for all the ones that were squashed and snuffed out. I don’t think it is realistic to try to restore the relationship between abused and abuser after CSA, but I believe that we can restore the relationship between a child and their community by offering services and benefits after such a violation.

Please, give us our reparations if you knew that someone was hurting us and we couldn’t cry out for ourselves. Please check on us, make sure we don’t hang ourselves, don’t hurt ourselves. It is a sisyphean burden to carry each day. All we can do is try to be accountable to ourselves, to our healing. All we can do is teach children that they own their bodies, and that adults who ask them to keep secrets want to harm them. All we can do is be the vanguard of the movement to end child sexual abuse.

Photo Credit: Nicole Myles

Photo Credit: Nicole Myles

Cyree Jarelle Johnson is a black non-binary essayist and poet from Piscataway, New Jersey. Their writing concerns community as a sight of trauma, animality, myth-making, and afro-pessimism. Cyree Jarelle is a Poetry Editor at The Deaf Poets Society, a journal of D/deaf and Disabled literature and art. They are a proud member of Harriet Tubman Collective. They are currently a candidate for a MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry from Columbia University.

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.


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, 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.com, and