Who is Accountable to the Black Latinx Child? by Luz Marquez-Benbow

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

By Luz Marquez-Benbow

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey of 2010, states that 1 in 7 Latinas experience rape at some point in their lifetime.

I am one of the seven.

When I share my history of childhood sexual abuse, I am often asked if my brother ever asked for forgiveness or why I still engage with my family? Frankly, I never gave a fuck about an apology for such a gross violent act. Additionally, I, like many incest survivors, struggle with family and guilt, because I never wanted to let go of my family. Most of my thoughts were stuck on the “why’s,” and “what if’s.” As for forgiving myself, this is a life-long process. Forgiveness is complicated by all of the societal sanctioned victim-blaming that occurs on a daily basis. I did forgive myself for thinking that these horrific violations happened to me because in my family, I was “La Prieta” (“the Dark One”).

Despite doing everything my mom told me to do including:  wearing shorts under my skirts/dresses, not sitting on any men’s laps, never be alone in the company of a stranger, and to pray, I was still sexually abused.

I wondered, who should pay for the cause of my sexual trauma at the early age of seven:

  • My mom who failed to believe me?
  • My oldest brother who is more than six years my senior who abused me?
  • My community for holding women and girls accountable for the sexual victimization many of us experience within our own communities?
  • My Puerto Rican culture whose anti-blackness deemed me “beautiful for a negra linda con pelo bueno” (beautiful for a pretty Black girl with good hair)?
  • My Black nationalist movement which fails to acknowledge ALL OF ME…my womanhood; yet, I am called “Queen.”?

I have been in denial about my need for accountability for a long time. Like some survivors, I have struggled internally with these questions, but I never uttered the words out loud; let alone written them anywhere. And yet, here I am in this public forum giving voice for the need for LoveWITHAccountability!

Living a double consciousness is a reality for many incest survivors because it enables us to maintain familial ties, even after the sexual abuse occurred. As a young person, my double consciousness made me very angry. The only way I could stop from harming others or from committing suicide was to use drugs. I was angry at my oldest brother, my mother’s boyfriend, and my mother. I was angry at god, the orishas, y la mano de Azabache (derived from my African and Arawak Spiritual traditions, Boricuas believe that the hand of Azabache is a protector of children); and every fucking being that is supposed to protect children and yet, fails miserably.

I have lived a drug free life for the past 31-years and yet, I still struggle with anger. This is often the reality for most incest survivors because of our engagement with our families. I know it is best and healthier for me and my kids to cut off my family (my mom and my brother) completely, but I can’t entirely disengage from familial ties. Frankly, I need to navigate these dynamics because culturally familial ties are very important for me that it is too painful to not have them in my life. Who is accountable for these contradictions?

As a little girl, I believed I was unlike most kids because I was sexually violated at such a young age in the name of sick love.  As an adult, I know this type of violence against children is more rampant than we care to acknowledge in society.  National studies state that 90% of sexually abused children know the perpetrator. Furthermore, the impact of child sexual abuse can last a lifetime and is often intergenerational. Childhood is a precious time that informs the rest of all of our lives. Usually what happens to us as children is internalized and passed on from generation to generation. Who is accountable for this loss of childhood because of child sexual abuse, and its’ impact on our kids and their kids?

My first born child Anansa was and is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. I made a commitment to my daughter and two sons that I would protect and listen to their emotions. I was intentional with communicating critical pieces about not harming our bodies and letting them know they can talk to me about anything. I believed that if I couldn’t protect my kids, ‘cause child sexual abuse is some insidious shit, I would be a compassionate mom and most of all believe and support them. Like most parents, I wanted my children to have a childhood free from such abuse. While I was able to break the cycle of child sexual abuse, I want to know who do I hold accountable for the conversations I had to have with my children about child sexual abuse? These are the conversations that many in the Black diasporic community have to have with their children. Who is accountable for these difficult and yet, necessary conversations about the realities of living in a world that views most Black diasporic people, especially our children, disposable? This is evident through rampant police and other forms of state sanctioned white supremacist violence perpetrated in our communities every single day. Our schools including the classroom are not even safe for Black diasporic children. And then, there’s the pandemic of child sexual abuse?

Who is accountable to the Black diasporic child?

As a Black diasporic community, and in particular, my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant Community, we need to have critical dialogues and action strategies about our responsibility to ending child sexual abuse, not because it’s any worse than in other communities; but because we have not held ourselves accountable to ensuring the safety of all our children. We have placed race at the center and marginalized women, children, and LGBTQI people amongst  other critical topics in our communities. Liberation for our people must include standing up against misogyny, homophobia, and against the notion that women and children are property.  In the name of radical love, I need my Black diasporic brothers to take responsibility to tackle the issue of toxic masculinity and the over-sexualization of our children, of girls/women, and to mentor young brothers. I need for brothers to do this organizing work with the same rigorous conviction that is taken against other issues to hold white amerikkka accountable.

Who is accountable to Black Latinx/Afrodescendant girls/women?

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the notion of what does it mean to be in sisterhood with each other? What does a healthy link or bond feel like with another human being, where everyone holds each other especially at our worst moments? During my time in the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement and disability movement, I explored the concepts of sisterhood and unconditional support within Women of Color spaces and also while supporting Black and Latinx young adults with disabilities. I also learned, from my sibling Dave who lived with a physical disability, that so much is possible when unconditional support exists.

As a 2016-2018 Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) fellow, I am re-imagining with adult survivors of child sexual abuse in my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community, the concept of sisterhood and brotherhood. My project Love in Sister/brotherhood is about creating a space for Black Latinx/Afrodescendant adult survivors of child sexual abuse to give voice to our experiences while building our capacity to make systemic political and cultural change.

Similar to and yet different from my sister-survivor and co-JBC fellow Aishah Shahidah Simmons’#LoveWITHAccountability project, my work is inclusive of community and personal accountability as my project simultaneously creates a network of survivors within my community.

From a Black Latinx/Afrodescendant cultural perspective the term, sisterhood denotes a powerful connection to our historical African traditions as women leaders protecting and teaching the African ways of healing and protecting ourselves so that we never forget our past.  My innate being has always believed, upheld, and explored the “sisterhood” within myself and other movements. Presently, I am interested in applying this traditional value/norm as a culturally specific response to supporting adult survivors within my own community. The experience of child sexual abuse can change how we love, how we parent, how we form relationships, and how we cope and heal. Additionally, we live in a world that blames and isolates survivors in particular those of us from Black diasporic communities. However, with Love in Sister/brotherhood we can change this reality for many survivors and leverage our collective power to end child sexual abuse.

This concept of sisterhood was the foundation for the development of the first ever national Women of Color (WOC) led anti-sexual assault organization in the United States that I co-founded over 10 years ago: The National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA). In the late 90’s Women of Color working at State Sexual Assault Coalitions across the United States came together to address the lack of WOC representation and leadership at State Coalitions, as well as the lack of culturally specific services for survivors of Color at the time. This organizing work led a collective of sisters to form a WOC leadership project. To be clear, the leadership project was more about increasing our leadership than it was about leadership development. Many of us women of color were already natural born leaders in our own right. The collective grew and evolved into SCESA. It is with a renewed commitment to sister/brotherhood that the next phase of my work is unfolding.

We know through the public health approaches of promotoras that community can be a powerful intervention in stopping child sexual abuse but like all communities, our Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community needs support and guidance about how to support survivors and to demystify bystander approaches so that a sister/or brother intervenes against abuse.

Shame and judgment are huge barriers that cause many survivors to be isolated from their community. This prevents disclosures or simply hinders critical dialogue about complex issues such as child sexual abuse; which also allows for further vulnerability.

Additionally, general society is losing its sense of human connection, many no longer live in community with each other. As Black Latinx/Afrodescendant communities we, too, are struggling with living in connection with each other. Given this loss of connection and the realities of child sexual abuse, I believe it is, as the revolutionary Assata Shakur states, “our duty” to rebuild our communities’ capacity to provide Love in Sister/brotherhood. The late human rights warrior Grace Lee Boggs once stated, “We have to change ourselves in order to change the world,” but not because something is wrong with us, but because Lee Boggs understood that the revolution begins with self and in community with each other. Love in Sister/brotherhood is critical to rebuilding our lives, breaking the cycle of abuse, dispelling the shame and guilt many of us live with and supporting others in our communities to do the same.

A child is not capable of causing anyone to violate them sexually. Nothing I did nor said meant that men, Black Latinx/Afrodescendant men, my brother and brothers in the struggle for our people’s liberation, could push their gender in my face and treat me as property. When we, Black diasporic people, are not accountable to each other for child sexual abuse in our communities, we burden Black children’s bodies and psyches with the responsibility of carrying their unacknowledged sexual trauma. Meanwhile, they simultaneously carry all of the vile white supremacist toxicity directed towards Black diasporic people for their entire lives. This was the reality of this former 7-year-old, who didn’t think that I was worthy of holding anyone accountable for my safety, including  my family.

We are all responsible for protecting the Black diasporic child. When we don’t, we must be accountable for our actions or lack thereof.  Love in Sister/brotherhood will provide a platform for my Black Latinx/Afrodescendant community to follow through on our non-negotiable duty to protect the Black diasporic child by ending child sexual abuse.


Luz Marquez-Benbow is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow (JBC) where she is focused on building a survivor network of Black Latinx/Afrodescendantes to advance social change and movement building toward ending child sexual abuse.

For over 15-years, Luz has worked on issues related to sexual assault. In the late 90’s, Luz served as the Director of Outreach and Policy for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA). In 2003, Luz co-founded and was the former Associate Director for the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA). In this capacity, she worked closely with national policy advocates, and Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2005 and 2012.  Most notably, Luz co-led the efforts to develop the Culturally Specific Grant Program in VAWA, and ensure that all national violence against women policy is reflective of the needs of Communities of Color throughout the U.S and Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S Virgin Islands. She also worked to reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention Services Act of 2010.

Prior to working on sexual assault issues, Luz worked within the disability rights movement, primarily as the work related to self-advocacy, community inclusion and leadership of People with Disabilities.

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, incest, and rape, Luz is very passionate about ensuring that the voices of Communities of Color are included in all aspects of ending violence against women. Over the years, Luz has connected sexual assault to the history of enslavement of African people and the colonization of our lands, such as Puerto Rico, to link our collective struggles as People of African descent throughout the Americas. Luz is a Black Boricua mother of 3 and wife.

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.

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.


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.


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.

The Coiled Spring First Grader Deep Inside: Sexual Violence and Restorative Justice by Sikivu Hutchinson

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 Sikivu Hutchinson

Why should we believe her? She’s not a white girl. Hers is not the life story that the media makes visible as gospel, tragedy, and redemption. If she comes forward she could jeopardize her family, its livelihood, its standing in the community. Besides, the real issues that we should be most concerned about are racism, deadly force and the military presence of police in our neighborhoods. Rape and sexual assault are white preoccupations that distract, because, “If you loved your community you would be silent.”

In the toxic litany of messages that black female victims and survivors receive about sexual assault this last is one of the most soul killing, the most deadly. I have written often about how there was no language, program or messaging that existed when I was sexually assaulted as an elementary school student to make my experience visible. I have written less frequently about the shame and disassociation I still feel toward the child who it happened to, the coiled spring first grader nestled deep inside, the one who loved handball, the swings, Electric Company and Golden Legacy comic books.

On the block, in our neighborhood, silence was required for daily survival. Silence meant allegiance to black men and boys splayed in the white man’s radar scope; it meant tacit recognition of their greater suffering, their greater historical sacrifice. Even now, as the political landscape has shifted—as exemplified by the national fury over the lax sentencing of convicted rapist Brock Turner, allegations against Nate Parker and Bill Cosby, as well as Donald Trump’s sexually predatory behavior toward white women—and critiques of campus rape, rape culture and victim-blaming inform mainstream discussions about sexual assault, the specific context of black girls’ experiences are absent from national policy discourse.

The discrediting of black girls’ experiences starts in preschool and kindergarten, where they are taught to endlessly check, police and second guess themselves. It’s symbolized by the hand games that are deemed too aggressive, the dancing that is too “sexual”, the “signifying” that is too loud, disrespectful, and the outfits that the white and Latina girls can wear without getting sent to the dean’s office. It is due in part to this context that—although black women have some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault—we are the least likely to report having been victimized. Even considering the ways in which fear of policing and criminalization in white supremacist capitalist patriarchy hinders us, there is the trauma of constant vilification from within. The Black Church has always played a key role in enforcing this regime of silence. As one of the most devoutly religious communities in the U.S., heterosexist and homophobic attitudes among black folk often perpetuate stigmas against the sexuality of black women and LGBTQ folk.  Biblical references to women as property, rape objects, seducers and subordinates who should remain “silent” are still deeply ingrained among folk who attend churches where the public face of leadership and authority is straight, cis and male.

When we do sexual violence prevention work with high school students we begin by talking about the destructive power of misogynoir within the context of their everyday teen lives. It seems as though new terms are coined every month to smear black girls’ sexuality. Over the past few weeks, the term “gerb” has become popular, joining “ho” “thot” “ratchet” and umpteen other epithets designed to check the “hypersexual”, “unfeminine” behavior of black girls. Of course, mainstream vocabulary has always been boundlessly creative when it comes to demonizing women’s sexuality. Walking students through the historical context of these terms (e.g., the way in which “wench” and “Jezebel” were used to justify the rape of black women under slavery by branding them as hypersexual breeders) is critical to providing youth with context about the relationship between racist, misogynist representations of black women in the past and that of the present. Here, rape culture has foundations in the white supremacist imagination which are then reinforced by obstructionist policies around prosecution, law enforcement investigations and inadequate rape kit testing, all of which make it more difficult for sexual assault survivors to come forward.

During a recent Women’s Leadership Project and Young Male Scholars’ peer education training with members of the football team at a South L.A. high school it was clear that the demonization of black girls’ sexuality played a key role in boys’ inability to empathize with sexual assault victims. The explosion of social media platforms has made it easier for young people to participate in sexual harassment and assault through sexually explicit posts that often cause their victims to leave school and/or harm themselves. As the young people talked about the dissing that happens on popular social media sites, virtually everyone in the room admitted to knowing a girl who’d been targeted.According to the Pew Research Center, African American teens access social media at greater rates than do non-black teens. For black girls, online predation—whether it’s through Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat—is also one of the most prevalent sources of sex trafficking. Poverty, joblessness, low access to educational opportunities and high rates of foster care representation all contribute to African American girls having disproportionate rates of domestic sex trafficking victimization.

Further, the onslaught of films memorializing and contextualizing victimized white women (be it in portrayals as seemingly disparate as those involving Nicole Brown Simpson, the Manson women killers or Amanda Knox) continues to convey the message that white women’s pain should always have priority. When young people of color see these images ad nauseum they are socialized to believe that they are the most authentic narratives vis-à-vis women’s experiences with abuse and sexual and intimate partner violence.

Restorative justice with accountability means actively engaging and training boys and men to challenge rape culture, sexism and misogyny against black women and girls. It means educating boys and men that when they demean us they are ultimately demeaning their lives, communities and families. It requires a transformative vision of black masculinity, one that confronts the way sexual violence is often framed as a “natural” part of black men’s hetero-normative sense of identity. It demands that community and government resources be shifted to prevention programs as well as therapeutic initiatives that provide critical healing space for victims and survivors—away from the prisons, police, and weaponry that lock down black communities. And it also demands bringing forward marginalized histories of the modern civil rights movement, that with its origins in black women’s resistance to sexual terrorism and rape. Finally, it asks us as black feminists/womanists/survivors who love and work with black children to continue to be on the frontlines as culturally responsive adults bringing the elimination of sexual violence into the narrative of liberation struggle. It is the legacy that our black women ancestors, against the code of violent silence and invisibility in their own homes, families and communities, left for us.


Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D., is the founder of the Black feminist humanist high school mentoring program The Women’s Leadership Project and author of the novel White Nights, Black Paradise. She is a contributing editor for The Feminist Wire. You can follow her on Twitter @sikivuhutch

We need Speak7 because Black Children Matter and Child Sexual Abuse Thrives in Silence! by MiKeiya Morrow

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 MiKeiya Morrow

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A very loud silence surrounds matters of child sexual abuse in the African American community. This silence impairs healthy and appropriate dialogue on child sexual abuse in our families and communities. This silence dismisses and discredits the lived experiences of child sexual abuse survivors. This silence debilitates law, justice, and accountability for child sexual perpetrators. This silence also arrests the development and implementation of local and national initiatives aimed at fostering and expanding child sexual abuse advocacy, outreach, prevention, intervention, and treatment. The Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program is a novel initiative that grew out of my discontent with this pervasive and painful silence, and my determination to speak out about child sexual abuse in the African American community. This brief reflection provides an overview of the Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program and the 5 Sexual Safety Affirmative Values that serve as a guiding framework in this intervention.


Child sexual abuse among African American children is a complex issue that warrants critical examination and the expansion of innovative and comprehensive solutions. The Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (Speak7) is a viable response to the crisis of child sexual abuse among African American children. Speak7 is a culturally sensitive and adult-focused child sexual abuse prevention program that was developed to enhance child sexual abuse prevention competence among adults who provide for African American children. This intervention integrates the best available child maltreatment, prevention, and African American cultural studies research to promote the safety and well-being of African American children. As a culturally sensitive initiative, Speak7 explicitly aims to foster a greater awareness of the scope and complexity of child sexual abuse among African American children, and to empower African American communities to exercise transformative agency to prevent child sexual abuse.


I believe adults bear primary responsibilities for child sexual abuse prevention and that a predominately child-focused approach unfairly places the burden of child sexual abuse prevention on children. With this in mind, Speak7 explicitly targets adults who provide for African American children as the subjects of this intervention. As adults, we create and sustain social and cultural norms that shape the environment in which we all live and directly impact child sexual abuse outcomes. Thus, we are responsible for challenging toxic attitudes and practices that foster child sexual abuse, and promoting healthy attitudes and practices that protect children and prohibit child sexual abuse.

The Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program utilizes the 5 Sexual Safety-Affirmative Values, which serve as a guiding framework in this intervention. These values are vital to creating safe environments and preventing child sexual abuse among African American children. The 5 Sexual Safety-Affirmative Values include:

#1 Open & Honest Dialogue

We believe that child sexual abuse thrives in silence. We vow to regularly and honestly speak about child sexual abuse within our homes and communities.

#2 Child Empowerment

We believe in respecting and nurturing children’s personal power. We vow to educate children about child sexual abuse and to empower children to exercise agency over their bodies.

#3 Survivor Integrity

We believe that child sexual abuse survivors should be treated with respect, compassion, and dignity. We vow to acknowledge the lived experiences of child sexual abuse survivors and honor survivors’ voices and perspectives.

 #4 Perpetrator Accountability

We believe that child sexual perpetrators need justice and accountability. We vow to report child sexual perpetrators to the appropriate authorities and to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable and receive treatment.

#5 Collective Healing

We believe that healing is the work and responsibility of the collective. We vow to acknowledge the harmful effects of sexual violence on individuals, families, and communities, and support treatment, healing, and recovery for child sexual abuse survivors.

The 5 Sexual Safety-Affirmative Values establish a set of guiding principles that prioritize the health and safety of children and survivors, and promote the broader well-being of African American children, families, and communities. Furthermore, Speak7 is an emergent child sexual abuse prevention initiative that is centered on the experience and needs of African American children. I believe that the child sexual abuse epidemic can be defeated and that Speak7 makes a valuable and promising contribution towards this end.

The Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program was developed by MiKeiya Morrow, M.A., Ed.S., doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Kentucky. Correspondence regarding the Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program may be submitted to MiKeiya Morrow at m.morrow “AT” uky “DOT” edu.


MiKeiya Morrow is a doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Kentucky. She received a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Oklahoma City University and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Central Oklahoma. Her clinical interests include child maltreatment, sexual violence, PTSD, substance abuse, and serious mental illness. She has clinical training and experience working in residential substance abuse treatment, university counseling, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, and veterans hospitals. Her research agenda focuses on the primary prevention of child sexual abuse among African American children and the development of culturally sensitive prevention initiatives. MiKeiya is the creative developer of Speaking Spaces Org and the author of the Speak7 African American Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program. She is a dedicated children’s rights and social justice advocate, and is active in various local and national organizations. You can connect with Speaking Space Org on Facebook and follow them on twitter. MiKeiya may be reached at m.morrow “AT” nulluky “DOT” edu .

Violation and Making The Road By Walking It by Zoë Flowers

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 Zoë Flowers

“Those were my favorite shorts. Blue with a white strip down the side”

One: Violation

When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house was like a castle. It was a Victorian style home with many oddly shaped rooms. Because my parents worked, they would send me to my grandmother’s house every summer. I spent most of my time either reading or playing in the backyard.

My grandmother’s backyard was massive. It had huge oak trees and wildflowers that grew in all directions. It was my magical kingdom. My older cousins hated getting dirty; so, I had the yard all to myself. It was just me, the ladybugs, and the frogs. On hot days, I’d run through the sprinkler, and then collapse on the dirt, letting the sun beat down on my drenched body.

 After a while, I’d reluctantly return to the house damp and covered in dirt.

 Nighttime was the only time my cousins and I played together. We would play hide and seek, truth or dare, anything we weren’t supposed to do. As soon as my grandmother went to bed, we’d go out and play.

 My grandmother was not as strict as my parents were. Her main restriction was on laziness and boredom. I’m from a traditional West Indian family that firmly believed that idle hands were the devil’s playground. Laziness was a trait she would not tolerate and was reason enough for a swat across the legs. In her eyes, children had no reason to be bored – ever. If she caught us lying around, she would find something for us to do. There were always dishes to wash, rooms to clean or books to read. That was another good reason for me to stay outside.

 Physically, my grandmother was a very attractive woman. People who met her could not believe she had twelve children and sixteen grandchildren because she had such a youthful glow. She had jet-black hair that she wore in a tight bun. At night, she would let it down and I would brush it out for her. It was long and soft. She was a bigged-boned woman who was effortlessly gentle…until she wasn’t. Her dark eyes were often steady and they seemed laser-like when she regaled me with stories about growing up in Jamaica. Her stories were not for my entertainment. They always had some moral that related back to the necessity of being an obedient child. She’d talk/lecture to me for hours while I braided her thick black hair. Still, our ritual was the one chore that I didn’t mind.

 Most of my relatives lived very close or visited her often. The house was never empty. Food was always on the stove with grandmother standing over it. She didn’t drink but everyone else in the house did. Liquor was a constant in my family. The adults could always count on getting a drink, a meal and good conversation. There were many nights that I’d sneak out of bed, sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the grown-ups. I loved listening to their loud voices debating, arguing and making fun of one another, often drowning out both the television and stereo. At times, it was difficult to know if they were arguing or joking.

 One of my favorite people in that house was my “uncle”. He was different from my other relatives. I could talk to him. No matter what the question, he would answer it honestly. Like my grandmother, my other relatives believed children should be seen and not heard. He wasn’t like that. I thought my uncle knew everything; he’d been to places I’d never even heard of.  

 He and my “aunt” lived with my grandmother for as long as I could remember. In almost all of their pictures there were exotic women flocked around him. His pictures portrayed a confident young man, tall and muscular with a smooth dark complexion and dark curly hair. I guess he would have been considered attractive in his day, but for as long as I can remember, he’d been old and wrinkled. The only remnant of the young man in the pictures was the mischievous twinkle that never left his eyes.

 I was seven years old the first time he fondled me. It was a typical day. It was summer. The adults were in the kitchen laughing and enjoying each other like they always did. He called me in his room. We’d often play checkers or dominoes, which we played to the death. He never let me win; he said it was not good for children, especially women, to get special treatment. I raced up the stairs as I always did. When I got in the room, the board was not in its usual place. I asked him where it was, and he told me it was under the bed. I remember getting down on all fours looking for the game. Suddenly, I felt his fingers frantically tugging at my shorts. They were my favorite shorts. They were blue with a white stripe down the side (Blue has always been my favorite color). They were tight but I loved them so much. I maneuvered myself around and looked at him as he pulled me toward him and clamped his hand over my mouth. I was a chunky kid. The shorts were tight. He was having a hard time getting his fingers in. I didn’t know what was happening. I can’t remember if I knew it was wrong. I can’t remember if I wanted to get away. I just remember him saying, “Shh,” in that raspy voice of his. I remember he was almost smiling. One of his hands stayed on my mouth while he penetrated me with the other. After it was over, I went back downstairs. Everyone was still there. The party hadn’t skipped a bit.

 I didn’t remember anything until my early twenties. All the painful memories flooded in on me on an ordinary day. I was driving home….nothing major…then all of a sudden I remembered. I never told my family. I knew they’d believed me but I didn’t think they could handle it. So, like so many other things I kept it to myself. I have not shared this story with anyone….until today.

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.”                                                                                                                                                             bell hooks


Two: Making The Road By Walking It

The question of accountability as a radical form of love makes me think about my childhood and how many children of my generation were raised. To me, linking punishment, accountability and love is not a new concept. Many of us were told we were being spanked out of love. And lots of people still believe and enact various forms of punishment to keep children in line “out of love.” So for me, it’s not about people’s inability to make the leap between accountability and love. It’s about whose well-being is valued in our society and whose is not. I can’t talk about transforming societal understanding accountability as a radical form of love until society begins addressing the impact of adult privilege effectively.

To me, accountability would look like no statute of limitations on child sexual assault (CSA) anywhere in the US. As a society, how can we say we care about children and not do everything in our power protect them, their childhood and their right to move unmolested through the world? How we can say they’re our future when many are not safe at home, school, on the sports field, or in church?

Accountability is believing children when they share that they’ve been harmed. It looks like:

  • Not re-traumatizing them by forcing them sit at holiday tables with their abuser and acting like that is normal.
  • Not giving the girls strategies to “protect” themselves around the known abuser and then praying that the tactics work.
  • Acknowledging that boys get raped too.
  • Not protecting the abuser because he is a man of color.
  • Having difficult conversations with family and friends. I’ve had to have conversations like, “I know he’s your favorite singer etc. but he has a history of x,y&z. Don’t you think that’s a problem? Why would you support him financially?”

Accountability looks like creating environments where children feel safe to disclose. And training for parents on how to deal effectively with them when they do. Accountability looks like communities of color addressing mental and emotional illness from multiple perspectives. When I think about the girl who says her mother’s partner is abusing her and the mother essentially says, “I’m sorry for your loss. I’m staying.” That is a woman that may have been abused. How can we talk to her about holding her partner accountable if she’s been dissociated for years? Will what we’re asking her to do even register? She may even think, “Hell, I got over it. She can too.” Families need mental, emotional and energetic healing to heal patterns like these.

When people come to me for Reiki, they come with all the consequences of a society that prioritizes the needs of adults over children. The trauma of parents who made a decision not to make a decision is lodged in the cells of the people I treat. There are more wounded children masquerading as adults than folks might think. Those “child/adults” then go on to have children of their own and the untreated and unacknowledged family trauma is transmitted right into that unborn child.

Holistic healing practices like Reiki, acupuncture, cupping, yoga and other indigenous technologies are often more effective than traditional healing methods (what are the traditional healing methods? I am confused. Perhaps, I’m using indigenous and traditional synonymously) and need to be more readily available in communities of color. These days I am often invited to “hold space” for large groups of people doing difficult work. This Spring I was called into the Black Women’s Blueprint Truth and Reconciliation Commission where Black survivors shared their stories of abuse for an entire day. This is a step in the right direction and it needs to happen more.

Lastly, I believe that healers need to be more vocal and participatory when it comes to issues like domestic violence and CSA. I believe in “praying and watching.” I also think it’s a good thing for healers to demystify themselves. I think it helps when healers lay themselves bare and let folks know that they’ve dealt with some of the same issues in their own lives.

On the question of justice and can we get it without punitive means.. I never intended to involve law enforcement and the courts in my life. However, my ex-partner’s actions made it impossible not to involve them. They were not helpful in my case. In fact, they were the opposite of helpful. Luckily, my artistic voice and following its wisdom saved my emotional and spiritual life after my experiences with domestic and sexual violence. I gained personal power through books, poetry and theatre. I joined the domestic violence movement and funneled my anger, frustration, and hopes into that work. Then my spiritual nature revealed itself and I followed that to a completely new life as a healing artist. So, in some ways I got non-traditional justice.

That said I recognize that many survivors want their day in court. And they should get that. I know the criminal justice system has major problems. And I’d have no problem seeing it overhauled or dismantled. But I don’t see that happening for a very long time and I do not believe we are in the energetic space where punitive justice is no longer an option. We will know that time has come when the needs of all members of our community are prioritized equitably. That’s the reality I envision and that is the world I am working toward.


Zoë Flowers is an author, poet, actress, Reiki Master and seasoned domestic violence expert. Her poetry and essays can be found in Stand Our Ground; Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander, and Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Assault and several online publications.

With almost sixteen years of experience in the domestic violence field, Zoë has appeared on National Public Radio, works nationally and has spoken internationally on the issue of domestic and sexual violence. Zoë worked at several state domestic violence coalitions where she provided training, technical assistance and expertise to local and state domestic violence programs and community partners across the country.

She was one of the original members of the Black Witch Chronicles (BWC) and shared readings, channeled messages to thousands via Facebook and YouTube as part of the trio. She co-created and co-facilitates Solstice SoulShifting with Dr. G. Love also an original member of BWC. This international retreat provides indigenous healing technologies and survivor-centered healing to folks worldwide.

Her book, From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood (formerly called Dirty Laundry: Women of Color Speak Up About Dating & Domestic Violence) emerged from interviews Zoë conducted with survivors of domestic and sexual violence and is set for re-release 2017.ASHES is a ChoreoDrama that uses monologues; poetry and vignettes to breathe life into the original stories shared in From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood and includes new stories about racism, same sex violence, body image and the journey to self-love.

Zoë wrote, produces and acts in the powerful ensemble piece, which has had successful performances across the country including, The White House’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC on June 15, 2016 and at Yale University’s Fearless Conference on April 9th 2016 as part of Zoë’s presentation entitled, Women of Color, Misogynoir, Sexual Assault & Reclaiming Our Magic, a presentation that she will bring to Smith College in April 2017. Zoë looks forward to returning to Yale in January 2017 where she’ll conduct a four month Campus Community Engagement Project entitled, Becoming Magickal: Exploring Healing Through Womanist Performance. Topics will include: poetry & performance, writing yourself “well” historical oppression, the artist as activist, the magick of trauma and ritual as a healing practice. The project will conclude with a weekend run of ASHES that will be performed by Yale’s Heritage Theatre Ensemble on April 7-8, 2017.

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.