Love Centered Accountability by Dr. Danielle Lee Moss

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

By Dr. Danielle Lee Moss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Soul Survivor: Reimagining Legacy by Chevara Orrin

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

By Chevara Orrin

I once believed, as I told a reporter,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how my journey of healing began:

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

“It. Didn’t. Happen.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsure why that was suddenly so important.

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

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

“I got you the right to vote.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It. Didn’t. Happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By Aishah Shahidah Simmons

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

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

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

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

Why coddle a black man who hurt her?

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

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

I was stunned while reading my words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the future generations…

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe 

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe 

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