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.

a place to live by e nina jay

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 e nina jay

the porch (an introduction)

When I received the email from Aishah asking me to be part of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum, my immediate answer was “yes.”  It was unquestionable for me.  I believe in Aishah’s work and her intentions.  I read the word “incest.”  I read the words “child sexual abuse.”  I believed I had.  It took me days, maybe even a couple weeks to truly realize that i may not have heard her.

Having worked in rape crisis centers for over a decade, having written hundreds of poems about rape & incest, having performed at endless take back the night marches, perhaps it was possible that those words had become just words to me.  Perhaps in order to do the work effectively, I’d distanced myself from them in ways I’m not aware of.  Perhaps I’ve become numb.  I thought this, at first, as i could not feel anything as i sat to write.  That’s what i told myself. I didn’t feel anything. This wasn’t true.

As the initial deadline approached closer, I felt anger. Why did I agree to do this? I didn’t have time.  I told myself I didn’t have the patience.  I told myself I had no idea what “love with accountability” means. I told myself Aishah was making me angry. She wanted too much. She’s never satisfied.  She’s always pushing me.  I told myself a lot of things.  Except this truth.

I was afraid to intimately engage this process because the person I felt the least accountable to had been myself.  To the parts of myself that needed healing.  For me it’s easier to focus, fight and love another womon, a community, a society.  It’s not difficult for me to contextualize childhood rape trauma when I’m reaching to love somebody else.  I deeply understand that I still live in a myriad of silences. I still knowingly live in shame.

So with this forum, I’d do what I’ve always done when dealing with childhood traumas. I’d just attach them to all the traumas & feel them together.  At a point, it became clear to me that I was going to have to dig deeper.  I was going to have to talk about it at the same time that i was loving and being accountable to myself.  I wasn’t sure i knew how to do that.  I found this a stunning revelation.

I told myself it would be easy.  I’d simply walk into the room where I stored all the files related to my incest and grab something quickly.  That’s how i talk about it in my mind. It’s easier that way.  Sounds like business. Almost clinical. Controllable. Contained.  I expected that I would be able to just walk into the room and open a drawer, pull an old file out to send to Aishah and simply walk back out of the room and close the door back. Tightly.

As the third deadline extension approached, I awakened in the mornings irritated with Aishah.  But I wasn’t irritated with Aishah. I was afraid. I was angry at her, though, perhaps, for knowing me deeply enough to know I wasn’t present.  Even if she didn’t have the words for it.  I could hear her doing her work by the tone of her emails/voice. She was struggling, perhaps hurting.  It didn’t sound like she was just walking into rooms and pulling files out of drawers.  If my sister isn’t doing that, how could I?

I understood I was going to have to write, which, for me, meant jumping into a volcano and praying I would be able to climb back out without getting burned alive.  But not being certain it would be possible. I had to decide it was worth the risk.  And I have decided that it is worth the risk.  That whatever fears I have about the kind of nudity this forum demands of me, that this is an opportunity for me to face them and to reach toward the possibility of my dreams, for survivors like me.

I believe that we are our most powerful when we are able to embrace every inch of ourselves.  I believe our collective loving and healing lies in our ability to acknowledge who we dreamed to be, what has interrupted that dream and who it is that we are now.  As individuals and as a community.  I believe it is possible to turn pain into power.  And this is not a metaphor.  I believe pain unspoken can never be transformed into power.  And true power cannot be held inside the same hands as secrets.

The following writing, “a place to live,” was born on a morning last week.  I share it now in an effort to be accountable to myself and more importantly, to the little gurl inside me who was raped and silenced and further silenced by me.  I share it now in an effort to explore what “love with accountability” means to me.  I share it now, with the hope that in doing so, I might come to understand and believe in what we call “restorative justice” and/or “transformative justice.”

I share it knowing that whatever work needs to be done, whatever dreams we may have about affecting the world concretely, as it relates to incest and child sexual abuse, that we must first acknowledge that we must first be accountable to ourselves and each other.  Our experiences. Our pain. Our shame. Our voices. Our stories. Our power.

a place to live

i need a place to live. i don’t fit into any space. my borders are too wide. i spill out of the sides. it’s difficult to breathe. i’m tired of altering and shifting.  i do not fit into this world, as i am.  i need a place to tell my secrets. a place to be whole.

i need a place to live.  where i can be visible. i want to be seen now. i want to be accepted. i want to be loved as all that i am.  i have tried to love and be loved, in pieces, the way people seem to need me. not too much.  just a little. of myself.  not the wreckage mixed with beauty.  not this weeping body i walk around in. just the sweetness that eases down a throat like honey.   i’m tired of living without my entire body. without my entire self.  i’m tired of secrets i know i don’t wanna keep anymore.  secrets i know are trying to kill me.  secrets that have filled my mouth with shame. nothing tastes good anymore.

i need a place to live with other people.  i’m tired of living alone. tired of being lonely. tired of being in crowds, still lonely. tired of being surrounded by love, still feeling lonely. if i am not being myself, then i am not there. no matter who else may be there.  i’m tired of crying alone. tired of my tears splashing onto concrete.  tired of running away to cry. to be sad. to feel what i feel. alone.  because i’ve learned that i can lose loving, by being honest.  i can lose intimacy, by crying. we can lose almost anything, by hurting.

i have learned to be alone. to avoid being alone.

i need a place to live where i can talk and be heard. and i can hear words that sound like mine. taste tears that taste like mine.  i need a place to live where my screams won’t break the glass.  where the walls won’t cave in on me. where the floor won’t drop from beneath me, leaving me falling.  i’m tired of falling. tired of caving in. tired of breaking.  and the remnants being stepped over and walked across like garbage.  but there is no refuse here. it all matters. it all is me.  it all is life.

i need a place to live where i don’t have to keep it all contained.  bracing the entire strength of my body against a closet door.  attempting to walk and live and love as if i am standing full on two feet.  i need a place to live without the feeling of danger.  there is danger that comes when opening

doors that have been closed for decades.  old houses with old memories. if i keep the door closed, you will never know how hurt i am still. you will never know that i never ever got over it and don’t believe i ever will.  you will never know, and i want you to know.  i think it’s important that you know.  then maybe you’ll understand that i dream to build a village filled with broken houses.  broken houses made of broken gurls.  with wild flowers in the front yards. and deep pools of rainbows in the back.

i need a place to live where other broken gurls live. broken and powerful. a village of broken and cracked vessels of light that still shine powerful and brilliant like sun.  its where i belong. in a village of womyn who do not hide from themselves and each other. a village of womyn who tell the truth and who prefer to hear the truth.   a village of womyn who stand at the gates through the day and through the night to usher in the bodies and minds of other broken gurls and womyn who are in search of a life without hiding. who are in search of a community that does not see scars as sin and bruises as badges of failure.

i don’t dream this village an easy place to live. it is not like how people fantasize a heaven.  it can never be heaven.  not for gurls with bruises like mine.  i won’t try to sell you a dream that i don’t believe can be reality. and i won’t try to convince you to live there with me.  no womon will be convinced to live there.  it must be her idea and her decision.  she must be wide open.  if she is not open, she will not be able to see the possibility of such a village.  the dream is only impossible to those who do not need it.  who cannot need it. i can remember when i could not need it.

this village is a place where everything that has ever happened to us, happened.  and everything we’ve ever done or said, was done and said.  this village is an idea of honesty and love.  this village is across the bridge from denial. from pain buried in bibles. from the stench of shame wearing pretty flowered dresses.

this village is not so much a place, as a way of living. a way of existing. a way of moving through the healing as a community.  a collective effort of reaching toward an emotional reality for womyn that can feel like justice.  or the seeds of it.  for womyn who live these lives of silence and shame and some futile reach for a forgiveness we have no need ask for.

i have memories of other womyn telling me that the pain of incest wasn’t something i was going to be able to do away with in my body, psyche and spirit.  i have memories of hating those womyn for saying that.  for urging me to give voice to the little gurl inside me. i did not want to talk about her. i did not want to talk about it. it was too complicated. it was too messy. all mixed in with family and death and other peoples’ secrets that i could or should not tell.  i refused to deal with it.  i refused to allow it any more space inside me.  to grow any larger than it was.  i had already spent a lifetime with my fingers squeezed around it to contain it and control it and i believed i did have it under control.  i wanted to live a life that was free of those thoughts, memories and nightmares and i believed i could and would get there.  it took almost forever for me to realize that i could, indeed, get “there.”  but not whole. not ever whole.

i need a place to live where she, the violated little gurl inside me, and i can live together.  whole and unseparated.

she needs my mouth and i need her bravery.

i know, now, that in order for me to have been able to live a life that did not acknowledge, accept and love the gurl that had been raped as a child, that she would have had to die.  my past would have had to die.  would have had to not exist. but is that realistic?

i need to build this village, even though i know not every womon will want to know this village exists as a viable and reliable and necessary place.  some womyn will prefer to view it as a pit stop.  a place to stop for a little while, always on the way to someplace else that promises what i might believe is impossible.  a future without a past.  a tomorrow not built on yesterday.  that future. that tomorrow.  crumbles.  it crumbles.  i know because i have tried to build houses on that land.  and i have watched many gurls and womyn in my life attempt to build a house on that land.  and i have watched them all crumble.

it’s my life now, yes.  but she carried it for us.  she began it for us.  and even though she learned her words were not important, she still found a way to write poetry. through all that bullshit, she still wrote words in notebooks, even after learning that there was not one person in the world that gave a damn about the words she said.

because she told. the little gurl i was/am. she did tell. they listened. they didn’t care.  there was no screaming. there were no police. there was no violence rained down upon him. he wasn’t put out of the house. nobody’s beds were moved. no schedules changed. there was no justice. only education.  she was meaningless. her words were meaningless.

he had been raping the gurl children in the family for 20 years before she was even born. nobody ever hid the kids and nobody ever warned her.  but this little gurl was smart.  she had somehow learned that it was wrong for grown men to touch gurls as young as she was.  and so when he sat her down the first time with his large penis laying in his lap for her to touch, she refused.  she pulled her hand away just before he forced her skin to touch his skin and she said in a scared voice ‘i don’t want to’  and he did not force her that day. he told her not to tell anyone.  that nobody would believe her. but she told an adult, anyway.  who told another adult.  who told the little gurl’s aunt, her mother’s sister, who was this man’s wife.  and when she pulled the little gurl into a room with just herself, the little gurl and the big uncle, and she asked the little gurl to say out loud what the grown man had said and done, while he was looking right at her.

the little gurl said out loud what he had done right in front of him.  and she didn’t crumble when he said he just didn’t understand why she would tell a lie like that.  she did not crumble.  the aunt sent her out of the room and she went to play. i think. maybe she did not go play but i know she did not go and die.

maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought.  maybe she was stupid for saying anything at all. her words had done nothing.  she never told again.

that little gurl that was me.  thank god she still tried to write words when they should have been so easy to give up and not believe in.  but they were all she had.  words. writing. sometimes just the writing. i can remember years of not being able to find the words i had buried and i would just sit and write my name over and over and over again.  i could not find the secrets. i would not write the secrets. but i would write. i still wrote.  i have always written, even when i couldn’t find anything to say.  and i have the little gurl to thank for that.  she held that love.  she didn’t let words die.  she didn’t let writing die.  she breathed life into it constantly as it constantly tried to kill itself.

we need to prepare a place for our children to live.  a place where shame is not birthed nor welcomed.  a place where gurls can peacefully sit with their legs open, even if they wear dresses.  a place where they can walk down a street alone in the dark just to think about a poem.  a place where they don’t have to fill their pockets with rocks and make hiding places of their bodies for mace, pocket knives, guns or ice picks.  a place where they need not care how soon or how much their bodies grow or how much of them to hide.

we want children to live in a place where monsters and boogeymen do not exist.  a place for our children to nurture a healthy imagination. a true imagination.  not just fantasies that attempt to mask the truths that are difficult to know.

that little gurl inside me needs me to prepare a place for gurls who tell their stories and their secrets.  who fill their arms with one another.  she dreams us to live in a village where womyn walk and skip, hand in hand, with the little gurls they had been.  and we don’t tell those gurls to be quiet.  and we don’t push those little gurls into corners.  we don’t hide them in another room when company comes over.

she wants me to tell you we are a package deal, just like when one desires the love of a single womon and she tells you immediately… this is a package deal.  you get me, you get these kids.  well, you get me, you get this little gurl and every other being i have ever had to be to survive and nurture my life until today.  i won’t kill any of them to live in a world that fears them because they may fear themselves.

she needs a place to live where she can tell someone she wants to live.  and i need a place to live where i can tell someone, i have not been ruined.

we need a place to live, where we can live together.  and we are preparing a village where we shall build a house.  and we will seek a community of other gurls and womyn. and we will live there. and we will grow powerful. and we will use our power to build other villages of gurls who do not know shame and who do not take on the guilt of oppressors that pretend to be family. pretend to be protectors. pretend to be love.

we need to prepare a place where she can scream all the things she knew, that she knew she should never have known.  where she can say all she has to say and not be called names. nasty. fast. disgusting. shameful. too grown.  brooding. we need a place to live where we can vomit the things we’ve been forced to eat and not be blamed for the meal. for the sickness. for the fact that our body violently heaves and throws it back out.

i am asked what does restorative justice looks like to me? i have not fit the two words together yet.  i can talk about restoration and what that looks like to me.  it looks like the erasure of shame. the creation of a world where his rape is his rape. and not mine.  it looks like the eradication of the idea that i must waste another inch of my lifeline trying to stand in front of trains that will never ever stop.

rapists are going to rape. pedophiles are going to victimize children.  what i believe can be restored or my idea of restoration lives in the ideas of what we can create together with the power we amass once we have done away with the burdens of guilt and shame.  in my opinion, that is a true example of what restoration might mean.

and what of justice?  i am not sure i have any idea of how any true justice might be attained.  i have little experience with justice.  i have no just reference of justice.  i am not sure i believe in true justice as it relates to incest and child sexual abuse.  i can only tell you that i wish i did believe in it.  perhaps one day i might.

but in the meantime, what can be restored and what can be transformed?  the gurls and womyn who live these lives in shame and unbearable silences.  like me.  this is where my dreams are born.


e nina jay is a lesbian/womon/activist/writer of African descent, who uses poetry as a tool of survival & to break silences around all forms of violence against gurls & womyn, with particular focus on the intersection of gender, violence, race & poverty. as a survivor of rape & incest, e.nina.jay believes womyn & gurls can create powerful community to fight against the violence & constant degradation that weaves itself into every facet of our lives, using art, voice and education to empower & build strong resistance & community.

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.

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.