LOVE WITH ACCOUNTABILITY: A Mother’s Lament & A Daughter’s Postscript by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons

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 Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons

A Mother’s Lament

My name is Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and I am the mother of my only child/daughter, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who was sexually molested by her (step)grandfather from when she was 10 until she was 12years old. When Aishah told me that her grandfather was sexually molesting her, I did not believe her. I told her that she was having a bad dream and that her beloved Pop-pop would never do anything like that.  He presented as an upstanding family man, hard worker, proud provider for his wife, Aishah’s grandmother, who he loved dearly and tenderly cared for. My daughter’s grandmother had a lingering illness and did not work outside the home.  She doted on Aishah, her “Pie” as she called her. For her, the sun rose and shined on Aishah. The feeling was mutual between the two of them; my daughter loved her grandmother dearly; I thought more than she loved me and I was a bit jealous of their relationship at times.

But I also felt so fortunate that my daughter had grandparents who cherished her and I felt that she was SAFE staying with them when I had to be out of town for long stretches due to my job which had me traveling across the country and sometimes internationally during the course of my work. Ineeded my daughter’s grandparents’ home to be SAFE so that I could travel and work without worrying about her well-being, knowing that she was loved and PROTECTED by both grandparents (or so I thought).

For my daughter to tell me that her grandfather was sneaking into her bedroom, late at night, and was touching and feeling her vagina and forcing her to kiss him in the basement were  monstrous acts beyond my imagination.  It could not possibly be true, I thought.  It was he who drove me, Aishah and her father home from the hospital after her birth. He carried her in his arms as her father wheeled me to the car in a wheelchair. I did not believe it! I told her so.  If it were true, massive changes had to occur; changes that would disrupt my life.  I hoped that it was just a bad dream and that the matter would go away. Oh how I wanted/needed it to go away!

It did not go away! My daughter insisted that this was happening. When I would question her about the facts, she would be perplexed about why I didn’t believe her and cry hysterically. I finally began to believe her but I did not know what to do. While I was becoming outraged at the possibility that my daughter was being sexually violated by her grandfather, disgracefully, I was also concerned about what would happen to my job if she could not stay with her grandparents when I had to be on the road. Her father and I were separated at that time and I had serious doubts about leaving Aishah in his care for extended periods of time because of our ideological differences about child rearing. The issue of how to raise Aishah was the one big contention between her dad and me and unfortunately, this possibly played a role in my inaction during Aishah’s ordeal at the hands of her grandfather.

I told her dad that Aishah’s grandfather, his stepfather, was coming into her bedroom late at night and sexually molesting her.  He, too, did not believe it, saying that there was no way his stepdad would do anything like this. I shared that I, too, had not believed it initially but that Aishah was so insistent that it was not a dream, that she was not making it up; that I now believed it was true. I said that we had to do something to stop it, but what?  As noted above, Aishah’s father and I had been separated for several years. He was also dependent on his parents providing child care for our daughter when either one of us was on the road. As a busy international human rights activist and labor organizer, he also traveled a lot. Also, as I mentioned, his mother had a serious illness and was totally dependent on her husband for her comfortable life style and the excellent health insurance (via his job) that provided the doctors who, we all believed, were keeping her alive.  Aishah’s dad kept saying it would kill his mother to tell her that her husband was sexually molesting her granddaughter and that we had to keep it a secret from her AT ALL COSTS!

What is so outrageous about my and Aishah’s dad’s behavior was that we were equally, if not more concerned, it seems in retrospect, about his mother’s wellbeing,my jobhis jobour Movement work and our reliance on them for childcare than we were about the tremendous harm being done to our daughter!

After much hang wringing and discussion, Aishah’s father said he would speak to his stepfather, warn him that we knew and tell him that he had better never touch her again. I agreed to this plan. Later, I was told that this conversation had occurred. What I find shocking and shameful about my behavior is that I made myself content with this and never spoke to her grandfather myself. I am dismayed that I did not confront him myself, me the activist referred to as an Amazon by some of my male SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) comrades because I instituted one of the only sexual harassment policies on a project in Laurel, Mississippi that I directed during the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964 when I was barely twenty:

Everyone on my project had to go through an orientation that included a segment on sexual abuse and were told that they would be exposed and dismissed if they committed such crimes. As a result of that I became known as an Amazon and many of my SNCC male comrades refused to work on the project…”[1]

I have been the victim of sexual assault on several occasions and risked life and limb to stop these attempted rapes: Firstly, from my Morehouse “Brothers” while a student at Spelman College. I had also fought off a high Nigerian Official who was on a State Department Tour of the Country, I helped to host as a Spelman student. The most terrifying attempted sexual assault and battering was by one of the first African American Football Players with a major NFL Team, the Houston Oilers during my years at Spelman. He also tried to run me down with his car after I escaped from his cluthches. The most painful of all sexual assault attempts I endured was from a fellow SNCC “Comrade,” who I had to fight off at the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project Orientation in Oxford, Ohio. This was by someone I admired and trusted as Aishah had admired and trusted her grandfather. But even more painful than the actual attempted rape by a SNCC comrade, was that when I reported him to a SNCC official, I was told that they (SNCC Leadership) did not have time to deal with atrivial matter such as this. Adding insult to injury, I was told: “Why are you making such a fuss; you should have given him some!”  I cried myself to sleep that night and a few nights after as I now had to add worry about being raped by a fellow comrade in addition to dogging bullets from Klansmen and other white racists who had vowed to kill all of us who were going to Mississippi that summer.

In spite of having endured these sexual assaults, I, in reality, did nothing to SAVE my daughter from being sexually molested in her grandparents’ home by a family member, someone I thought she was SAFE with.  WHY? This is a question I cannot answer to this very day. It troubles me deeply that I cannot explain my inaction.

Additionally, Aishah’s father and I agreed that he was supposed to spend nights at her grandparents’ home when our daughter stayed overnight, which was often, to act as a deterrent to any additional molestation. I’m not sure that this plan was adhered to. Yet, I continued traveling for my job, leaving Aishah there while deluding myself into believing that the situation was taken care of.

This was a LIE!  It was not taken care of. Yes, my life went on as usual as did Aishah’s dad’s. The only person left to suffer in fear and anguish year after year was, Aishah! What happened to her, and her dad’s and my inaction has haunted her and my relationship for thirty-seven years!  Aishah has had to struggle without my understanding and support for what happened to her beyond the molestation for almost four decades.  This is because what is even more outrageous than my not intervening directly with Pop-pop, is that her father and I expected her to continue to go to her grandparents’ home, sleep in that same bedroom where she was molested, help out with her grandmother’s care after she developed Altzheimer’s , spending days and nights with the man who molested her for two-years, for three decades after the sexual violation!

Oh, yes, I apologized after she began to lash out at me for leaving her there all those years and for tacitly expecting her to function with her grandfather as if nothing had happened long after he stopped sexually molesting her. As far as Aishah knew, neither her dad nor I had done ANYTHING!  On the surface nothing had changed between us and him. As far as she knew we had done nothing to end the nightmare, nor was he publicly or privately censured in any way for his crime, by me.

For these decades, I could not understand why Aishah could not “just get over it!” I was in denial about the great harm that had been done during and long after the actual molestations took place. There was the great harm of Aishah’s father and me acting normal around this man. Never letting on to other family members that he was not as he appeared, but was someone who caused our daughter great harm, who we were protecting for our own selfish reasons. To add insult to injury, we expected our daughter to keep it a secret; to never tell her grandmother (it would kill her we kept repeating over and over!) nor all of the other family members who regularly gathered to celebrate birthdays and holidays over these three decades.  We acted as if all was normal! I never understood the tremendous harm I was inflicting on my daughter. What is worse, I never thought about what she must be going through at all those parties, dinners and gatherings held there. We wanted her to put it behind her; to forget about it; to not upset the happy family. I did not understanduntil less than three months ago why Aishah was still angry with me; why our relationship was so troubled.  I was oblivious to the fact that the harm continued way beyond the two years she was being actively molested.

As a Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Human Rights Activist, I am shocked and ashamed of myself.  I am ashamed that I let my only child, a woman child, suffer all these years in silence.  I am ashamed that I did NOTHING, really, to take her out of the horrible situation she endured during and long after the molestations occurred by wanting her to keep QUIET; to keep it SECRET! To go their regularly and act as if nothing had happened. I don’t know how I did this!  I am just now admitting and coming to terms with my INACTION with this GREAT EVIL that I covered up and expected Aishah to cover up!  I am just – thirty-seven years later – coming to terms with the terrible spiritual, psychic, emotional and physical toll that this has taken on Aishah for almost four decades.  I am just now becoming ACCOUNTABLE to her for the LOVE I have always proclaimed that I have for her, my daughter.

I am so sad about the overt and covert harm that I caused my only child.  I am grateful that in spite of this great harm I have caused, Aishah has persevered, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes and held me ACCOUNTABLE for my silence and cover up of a monstrous evil.  She has broken silences with her film NO! The Rape Documentary,  with her numerous published writings in print and online, her national and international lectures, workshops, and now, her project#LoveWITHAccountability, I can only pray that she forgives me and that I continue to learn from her example, her writings and the personal experiences she shares with me on how a parent should act when their child is sexually abused:

First and foremost: Believe Her! (or Him) Check it out! Confront the perpetrator

Secondly: Remove her/him from the site of the molestation and do not make the child continue to go there and act as if everything is normal!

Thirdly: Charge the perpetrator with the crime to family members and possibly the authorities unless he/she makes amends, especially within the family unit!

Fourthly: Get professional help for your child, other family members and yourself!

I am proud of and salute Aishah’s work to stop this horrible scourge of sexual violence against girls and women that is a pandemic mbers in this country and around the world. Thank Goddess and Gods, Aishah is silent NO More.


A Daughter’s Postscript

After talking extensively with my mother in response to my deep feelings of unexplained irrational guilt about a one-sided view of my grandfather in her “peace,” we both agreed that I should write a postscript.

What happened to me as a 10-12 year old child was egregious and it became horrific because nothing was ever done. My grandfather is definitely guilty of sexually molesting me for a period of two years. However, he is not the only one who caused me severe harm. As my mother shared, I told her about my molestation while it has happening. Initially she didn’t (want to) believe me but ultimately, she eventually told my dad. They were bystanders who never did anything. I was left to navigate my way by myself as a child who became an adult.

This is not the sum total of who Pop-pop (my grandfather) was or who my parents were and are. Up until writing my “Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric[2] Silence Breaker”chapter in Jennifer Patterson‘s edited anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, I only wrote about my parents in glowing terms without ever exposing their contradictions. They are both prominently featured in my film NO!. My father is also the celebrated subject in my short video In My Father’s House, which is about his unwavering support of my lesbian coming out process. For me, my life is about the profound contradictions and deep complexities.

Nana (my grandmother) wasn’t ever told what her husband did to me. She was my closest confidante up until my first year in college when she began the initial stages of developingAlzheimer’s disease. I didn’t tell her and neither did her son, my father, or her ex-daughter in law, my mother. If it weren’t  for her husband, my Pop-pop, Nana would’ve been in a nursing home when she developed Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the fact that she was mentally unaware of her current reality, her husband was her literal savior, and simultaneously, he was my terrorist when I was a defenseless 10-12 year old girl. What would it have meant for my parents to hold him accountable? Would he have admitted to his molesting me? Would my grandmother have believed me?

I will never know those answers.

Throughout my twenties and my very early thirties, during my grandmother’s demise, my grandfather became the celebrated hero for being a dedicated and committed husband who carried the lion’s share of his wife’s care. In my eyes, he was the flawed hero whose painful contradictionswere only acknowledged in private when I brought them up with my parents.

After over a decade of living with Alzheimer’s disease, Nana only spent the last three days of her life in the hospital prior to her becoming an ancestor. This is because of my grandfather’s unwavering commitment to his wife. It was during her most unconscious state in her hospital room in late December 2001 that I laid my head in her lap and sobbed. I finally told her what I never could tell her when she was conscious and alert.

Without ANY hesitation, I celebrated my grandfather for ALL that he did for his wife when I wrote and delivered Nana’s eulogy at her funeral. After her burial in December 2001, I continued to lovingly engage with my grandfather until shortly after I played a pivotal role in saving his life nine years later in March 2010. It was then that the weight of a mask  that I wore for 31-years almost suffocated me. I began taking the steps to yank it off and destroy it.

I was angry because the assumption was that I should “be there” for my grandfather during his critical time of need. And while I was there and I believe would do it again, I could no longer accept this inadvertent belief that I must sacrifice myself for the man who terrorized me and  the man and woman who allowed it to happen. That was no longer acceptable.

To my father’s credit, he said, “Okay.” He didn’t make me feel guilty about my decision. He supported it. Without any input from me, he also believed it was his responsibility to tell both my aunt and my cousin (her daughter) the reasons why I completely disappeared from any and all activity connected to my grandfather’s care. My grandfather became an ancestor in February 2011 and after much thought and deliberation, I did not attend his funeral.[3]

How do I heal from 37-years of intentional and inadvertent denial from two beloved people, my divorced parents, who did not walk their human rights defending talk when it came to addressing my child sexual molestation?  Since late August 2016, this is the question that my mother and I are experientially learning minute by minute of every single day by day without attachments to the outcome. It is not a parallel journey, but my belief is that my father is also pushing himself to face what feels like the unfaceable. This is our familial version of #LoveWITHAccountability.

End Notes

[1] NO! The Rape Documentary. Aishah Shahidah Simmons. AfroLez® Productions, 2006. DVD.

[2] Coined in 1990, by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, AfroLez®femcentric defines the culturally conscious role of Black women who identify as Afrocentric, Lesbian, and Feminist.

[3] Simmons, Aishah Shahidah. “Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric[2] Silence Breaker.”Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, Ed. Jennifer Patterson. New York: Avalon 2016. Page 31. Print.


Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer of African American Studies and Religion at the University of Florida. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from Temple University. Her primary academic focus is on Islam with a specific focus on Islamic Law and its impact on Muslim women. She conducted research in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Syria on the Shari’ah’s impact on women, and the contemporary women’s movements in those countries to change these laws while on Fulbright and USAID Fellowships.

She currently teaches Courses on Islam, Women and Islam,Modern Islamic Thought, African American Religious traditionsand Race Religion and Rebellion.  Her manuscript, Muslim Feminism: A Call for Reform is under review and she is under contract with The New Press, for  ISLAM does not equal FUNDAMENTALISM.  She has published several articles including: “From Little Memphis Girl to Mississippi Amazon,” in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCC, Holsaert, Norman et al (eds.) University of Illinois Press; “Martin Luther King Revisited: A Black Power Feminist Pays Homage to the King,” in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; “Striving for Muslim Women’s Rights—Before and Beyond Beijing: An African American Perspective” in: Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists of North America.  G. Webb (ed.), Syracuse University Press 2000; “Are We Up To The Challenge?  The Need For a Radical Re-Ordering Of The Islamic Discourse On Women” in: Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. O. Safi (ed.) London: One World Press 2003); and others.

In addition to her academic and spiritual studies she has a long history in the area of civil rights, human rights and peace work. For 23 years, Simmons was on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace, justice, human rights, and international development organization.  During her early adult years, Simmons was active with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), becoming active during the Sit-Ins as a student at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. This involvement led to her leaving college to work full time with SNCC in the summer of 1964 as a volunteer in the historic Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. She is the recipient of the Gainesville, Florida’s 2010 Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Award, the co-recipient, with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, of the  Scarritt-Bennett Center’s 2010 Ann L. Reskovac Courage Award,  and the Gainesville Commission on Women’s 2011 International Women’s Human Rights Award. She is featured in the internationally acclaimed award-winning  NO! The Rape Documentary by her daughter Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and the award-winning PBS Documentaries This Far By Faith by Valerie Linson and Freedom Summer by Stanley Nelson.

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.

It’s the Whispers by T. Kebo Drew

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 T. Kebo Drew

I have started and stopped and rearranged this piece of writing dozens of times. Once I began to write, memories came back from the place where I forget things, where I had dismissed them.

It is no small irony that I am also a history buff who has read residential school stories, slave narratives, and the coded language of slaver diary entries, abolition articles, legal opinions of the day and newspaper adverts.

And so I write this first: racism and white supremacy, slavery and colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism are built on the exploitation of people, their labor and their bodies. This crushing weight rests on the horror of sexual violence perpetrated against children of color, particularly for our Native and Indigenous cousins throughout the Americas, and for Black people as a whole.

I have a memory from when my family lived in Mexico so I must have been around 4 years old. My mother was cooking in the kitchen and I hid around the corner with my father playing a game with her. Every so often, he would send me into the kitchen to smack my mother’s bottom with both my hands. I would run back to him and giggle. After a few rounds, the ever-presented music playing in the background changed, and I think that my father said something about slow dancing. I remember clearly that my mother said, “not until she is 30.”

The twin roots of sexual violence, from outside of and within the Black community, are entwined together in both my maternal and paternal family trees. Every so often a branch starts from a woman whose name is known and an often unknown, and more often unnamed, white man. When my maternal great-grandmother was 13, 14, or 15, as the story goes, her father, who was himself the son of an enslaved woman and a white doctor that recognized him as a son, told her to “go see about that white man.” The fact that she was a girl herself was of little consequence because the family needed to eat, and “that” white man had resources. My grandfather, and to hear tell, his brother/cousin born from my great-grandmother’s younger sister, were born of these transactions. There are multiple stories on both sides of my family about a distant relative from generations ago, who marries a woman who already has a young girl child. Then, after many children together, his wife dies, and he marries his step-daughter and starts another family. Long before my great-grandmother bore a son from that white man, her older half-sister later became her stepmother.

There are whispers, so faint they are like wind and when I turn to listen they seem to disappear: the elder losing memory, who when talking about the life of a grown man that has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager, and does not form friendships with other men except his cousins, tells the story of the man as a four-year-old boy who said “that woman touched him.” To hear tell, we’re the third generation of queer Black kids and there is a story known only to us. In our parents’ generation there was a cousin, who was very Butch, or possibly Transgender, who was murdered after an attempted rape. There are the whispers of my paternal grandfather and how he treated one of my aunts, to which my own father most likely said, “well, he was an alcoholic.” There are whispers of my maternal grandparents, who learned of the preacher’s intentions toward my then 13-year-old aunt, who not only changed churches, but completely changed denominations.

It wasn’t until I began to start the healing process from my own experiences that I understood that I was looking at a tree full of sexual violence, watered with degradation and fed on blood. I was rocked into the ground, looking at the roots so very close to my own grave. It was clear that there was a continuum that connected me to my great-grandmother, the women of my family, and other Black women.

I have kept my own stories locked down, diminished. I only recently began to see my experiences as child sexual abuse.

After I was born, my parents left the South, left Memphis, for big cities like Chicago, where my brother was born, and then New York. My father would allow me to walk my big dog down the streets of Manhattan, and Rochester. He said that he watched over me as I walked, but that didn’t stop all the calls from the Black men on porches from inviting me to sit in their laps and give them some sugar. Something kept me from going to them, and to this day I don’t know what it was.

We moved to Mexico, a place that Black folks have escaped to since the 1800s for freedom and a break from the specific flavor of racism endemic to the U.S. My parents and so many other Black people where following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Catlett and Audre Lorde to find space to breathe. At one point, we lived in a big house that belonged to the rich son of a Nation of Islam leader, full of activists, hippies, and students.

There was the time that my father left my younger brother and me in a car to wait for him. He went into an apartment building and was gone from day to dark. I had forgotten which door my father went into, and my brother had to go to the bathroom. We weren’t to disturb him, whatever his was doing, drugs, drug deals or a woman. Eventually police officers noticed us and we were taken to the station, where someone recognized these little dark children and took us home. My mother didn’t know about that for 30 years. By the time we left when I was 6, I had learned to lie for my father, and keep secrets, especially anything having to do with sex.

My brother and I were separated from our parents for about 6 months because of police violence against my father. We went to Memphis to stay with our extended family, where there were games that the kids played with the determination of adults. When we were all reunited at our new home in Oregon, there was the little girl who insisted that she wanted to “go down” on me because she was going to show me what people did in bed. I did not know how to say no, and I did not know what to say or who I should tell. I knew how to keep a secret. A secret about the white men on the streets of the very white college town where we lived, who would call me over to their cars, and masturbate in front of me until I could gather my thoughts and run away. About the white man who saw my neighbor friend and I playing in the upper branches of a tree in the park. Who climbed up, reclined on the branches just below and took himself out. We jumped down so far and ran, and he stole all of the allowance money we have saved up. One night, when a white woman came banging on the door at home, saying she had been thrown into a van by two men and attacked. I don’t remember all of what was said, I think that she was raped. I could not talk about it with anyone, because that was one of the nights my father had his mistress over. I might have been 9 years of age. I remember feeling weary and older, much, much older.

By then, my parent’s marriage was so horrible that I prayed for a divorce. I became my father’s girl between my mother, and his mistress. I had already learned very early to take care of my father’s emotional needs. I became his confidant and his witness. I did not feel special. I knew about his relationships. I knew about his porn stash. I knew which women were attractive. I had heard him having sex with his mistress. On those days and nights that my mother was working, my brother and I were “with” him, so he couldn’t be with anyone else. Sometimes my father would take me on long drives alone with him so that he could talk, and once he told me to choose. That my brother would stay with our mother, and his mistresses’ son would stay with her, but I was the one to decide where “we”, him and I, should go. All I remember is my hot cheek pressed against the window of his truck with the cold rain falling outside. There was a level of constant forced emotional intimacy where there was no room for my own instincts, feelings, and development. At the same time, I was going through an early puberty. I was awkward, chubby and strong, with an intellectual understanding of human sexuality. I liked to read and I would look up any mention of lesbian in the library card catalogue. I felt mature and much older than I was, but emotionally I was like a 10-year-old, because I was in fact 10 years old.

When men my father hung out with said that I would make a good wife, he said that I would remain a virgin like my hair. He would joke about the kinds of men who needed to rape women because they weren’t handsome enough to have women come to them. I felt like an embarrassment to my father because I was not beautiful like my mother, or the kind of women that he found attractive. With my twinned family trees I got the wide hips and the thick thighs, I wasn’t shapely with a nice figure at all. He did not know what to do with this strange, quiet girl. The combination of my maturing body and the emotional closeness I had with my father, led people to ask if I was his girlfriend when they saw us together. He would laugh that off every time.

I was incredibly timid, hyperaware of everyone, and ashamed of my body. My father knew this because there were no secrets from him. Sometimes my body would become the subject of adult discussion, and his jokes. Often I would feel that I was being watched. I would have these bolts of intense feeling in my body, I thought that I was embarrassed that someone was looking at me. It was only later, in the few times in my adult life when I have actually felt attracted to someone, that I recognized it as desire, and not my own. As a result, I felt emotionally raw and physically exposed all of the time. I took to wearing clothes that covered me, my fat body, and my ugliness, completely. It was visceral, instinctual. To this day, when I feel emotionally manipulated or “screwed” over, I actually feel it in my genitals.

By the time that my parents separated, and we moved away, my father still had a strong emotional hold over me. He would manipulate me over the phone to get back at my mother, and every time she cried it was for something he told me to do. By that time, I was 12 and my brother had a little friend who would say every day, “hey, let’s gang bang your sister.” My brother would always say “no” and keep playing, doing what 10-year-old Black boys do. The distance from my father was a relief, but it didn’t stop the comments from boys and teenagers. They either said that I was fat and ugly (as my father alluded to without saying it outright). Or, like the Black boy in middle school who came from behind me and put his hands in the pockets of my corduroys, drawing the anger of our Black woman teacher because she thought that I was fast. It didn’t stop men either. Like the time I was sitting on the living room floor at my own house during a backyard bbq, when a white man, a guest of a family friend, started talking to me. I was mostly invisible in my life, shy and full of social anxiety. I happily answered all of his questions, although some of his comments went over my head. I didn’t show that I didn’t understand (because my father explained his disappointment at my failings), because I was so grateful for the attention that seemed to be about me. So when my mother came in like a cold storm telling the man, “she’s only 12!”, I was confused, then ashamed because of my own ugliness and his sexual intentions.

I thought that my father was an expert gas-lighter like his siblings, and a garden-variety narcissist as a result of childhood physical abuse and PTSD as a war veteran.  This was how I diminished my own experience. For years, when people asked me about our relationship, I would say that it was uncomfortable or inappropriate. I never mentioned the level of emotional intimacy and the sexual undercurrent, because he didn’t touch me physically. Since his death 3 years ago, I learned words for the whispers and secrets that had bound me so tightly to my father, emotional incest, like strong shiny ribbons that bruise the skin and break it bloody. Along with the sexual myths about Black girls and teenagers, it was a nearly lethal combination.

Now I believe that it is a consequence and an irony of emotional incest, that what started the break from my father, was being drugged and gang raped by a group of young white men when I was 15. What I clearly remember of that night is that I once again felt grateful that anyone wanted to talk with me, and give me attention. I had never even held hands romantically with a boy or girl my age. So after I drank the water they gave me, and the first boy kissed me, I remember feeling this sense of wonder. By the time my friends, those 3 white girls who so casually used the word nigger to describe someone’s suntan, left me at the house, their departure was a dim concern. For close to 2 decades after I was gang raped, chronic physical pain and retrograde amnesia meant that I had to freshly relive the rape over and over again each year on the anniversary of that night.

Like my mother said, it was not until I was 30 that I was ready.

I had dismissed the child sexual abuse I experienced because I had blamed my own awkward, pubescent and teenage Black body for what happened to me. I struggled with beliefs that I did not deserve to be loved, that I should be grateful to anyone who could overlook my fat body to touch me with desire, and that I had to give all of my emotional energy and labor to be worthy of any attention. I had sexual relationships with people that I would not have coffee with today. Too often, my sexual desire and romantic attraction, to Black Butches, and Transgender, or cisgender Black men, felt much too much like family and too close to home. I struggled with my genuine love for Black people, emotional intimacy, and reminders of my father. Part of my healing process has been to look what I missed as a child. It is not an exercise in nostalgia but one of love for myself. I pull out memories from the place where I forget things, memories that started before I was born, and memories created yesterday.

Studies of survivors of child sexual abuse show our experiences and risk factors collide make us vulnerable to re-victimization as we get older. In the intervening decades since my childhood, survivor activists have changed the conversation about child sexual abuse. More people are haphazardly teaching children about body safety and consent, particularly from strangers. Yet as children mature and go through puberty, the conversation switches to their raging hormones. And that’s for white children.

Current activism about everything from the school-to-prison pipeline to police violence notes that our Black children are deemed older than we really are, with knowledge we do not have. Myths about our pain threshold, our strength, our assumed criminality and sexual deviance are written on our skin. We learn early to be courageous. We learn quickly to take care of our parents’ emotional needs and be watchful of white people’s feelings. We are taught that our bodies are not our own. We are taught that our emotions are not our own. And because I still like to read, I see studies that note that current rates of rape of Black girls and women, particularly in cities like Chicago and Dallas, is similar to the for rape of Black girls and women ages 15-30 during slavery (West and Johnson).

I fear for Black children now, and I fear for the children we once were.

And so I write this: we as Black people have survived a twisted breaking of souls and relationships, and child sexual abuse is a part of our history, our community, and our every day lives.

Love with accountability means that we need to understand age-appropriate intellectual, emotional, and sexual development for Black children, including teenagers. It means not simply praying for the lives of our children, and claiming that we protect them through control of their bodies and emotions, which leaves them more vulnerable. It means that we champion the wholeness of their bodies and their sovereignty over their own souls. We need to act on the entwined roots of sexual violence against Black people, from outside of and within our own community, by focusing on Black children and ending childhood sexual abuse. If we can protect the most vulnerable, small, soft and quiet beings, among us, then we can end the violence that consumes us all.

Photo Credit: Leilani Nisperos

Photo Credit: Leilani Nisperos

T. Kebo Drew, CFRE is a filmmaker, writer and dancer, she is the producer and director of Ain’t I A Woman? which has screened at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival and Translations: the Seattle Transgender Film Festival, among many others around the world. She has also produced numerous films, which include Don’t Fence Me In: Major Mary and the Karen Refugees from Burma, which won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary from the 2006 Washington D.C. Independent Film Festival and the Director’s Citation Award from the 2006 Black Maria Film Festival. She got her start at a Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project – QWOCMAP screenwriting workshop in 2001, where she wrote two feature-length screenplays. She has performed in the U.S., Latin America and Europe as a poet and dancer. She is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow and won an Audre Lorde/Pat Parker Award and an Astraea Emerging Lesbian Writers Award. She also won an Irene Weed Dance Award and Robert Kuykendall Dance Scholarship. Kebo is currently the Managing Director of QWOCMAP, which builds power through film that radically centers our marginalized communities to fundamentally transform the world where justice and equity are the norm. QWOCMAP creates, exhibits, and distributes high-impact films that authentically reflect the lives of queer women of color (cisgender & transgender), gender nonconforming and transgender people of color (of any orientation), and address the vital, intersecting social justice issues that concern our multiple communities. QWOCMAP uses film to shatter stereotypes and bias, build community through compassionate public discussions, and strengthen social justice movements. QWOCMAP is in the second year of its joint Life Healing Project with San Francisco Women Against Rape, which combines Learning Circles and Filmmaking Workshops for LBTQ women of color to address the many forms of violence that impact our lives.

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

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

By Sikivu Hutchinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

By MiKeiya Morrow

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

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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


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


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

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

#1 Open & Honest Dialogue

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

#2 Child Empowerment

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

#3 Survivor Integrity

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

 #4 Perpetrator Accountability

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

#5 Collective Healing

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

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

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


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

Social Silence & Child Sexual Abuse by Cyree Jarelle Johnson

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

By Cyree Jarelle Johnson

TW: Child Sexual Abuse, Ableism, Suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Nicole Myles

Photo Credit: Nicole Myles

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