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Content Notice: This article is part of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire. The purpose of this forum and the #LoveWITHAccountability 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 CeCelia Falls
I have been accused of living in the past. This comment has usually come after I engage in a discussion about childhood sexual abuse. The ease at which I now disclose having been raped as a child by an adult male family member is uncomfortable for many people to hear. A discomfort that is thrown back at me with dismissive comments like:
“you have to stop living in the past”
“it’s time you got over that.”
That is a different kind of discomfort than what I experienced from disclosing my history to a therapist who remarked about the lack of emotion as I recounted what happened to my ten year old self. That discomfort was my therapist’s acknowledgement of how disconnected I was from the impact of my own history of abuse. That discomfort came from knowing the costs of that type of disconnect.
The discomfort that comes now has nothing to do with a “disconnect” in me, but from a societal disconnect from the reality of childhood sexual abuse—its nature, prevalence and impact on the survivor, families, and community at large. I find this discomfort both common and odd. Common because childhood sexual abuse is an uncomfortable, ugly, painful reality. Odd, because though it is all of those things-it is an incredibly common occurrence, across cultures and socioeconomic groups. So why do we still continue to be so silent?
Some will note that we aren’t as silent as we used to be given the books, movies, talk shows, etc. that have addressed childhood sexual abuse. There are also a number of celebrities who have disclosed having been sexually abused as children, yet there is still an air of secrecy and shame that pushes many survivors back into the silence they escaped. There is very little room for dealing with the ongoing consequences of abuse for the survivor.
Part of the problem is the centering of the perpetrator in the conversation. It’s understandable, to a degree. We can all agree that raping children is horrific. Something should be done about it and children should be safe from this type of horror. Punishing the perpetrator becomes the immediate goal to address the issue. While this is important, it does little to address the long term impact of the abuse on the survivor.
My work is centered on survivors and what happens after disclosure, trials, or no trials-which is more often the case. Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I continue to discover what healing means, looks like, and feels like on a day to day basis. As such, I don’t come to this work with all of the answers of an expert, but as a fellow survivor seeking to create a life I love and that works for me. Surviving, healing, and thriving is at the core.
Being in community with other survivors and expressing myself artistically has been critical in my healing journey. Community helps to end the stigma and shame that often comes with identifying as a survivor. I started the volunteer group Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, to support survivors of African descent and to raise awareness about the nature, prevalence, and impact of childhood sexual abuse in Black communities. We use the arts to give voice, picture, and movement to our experiences as survivors. We are also committed to nurturing ourselves, our families, and communities to create a world free from sexual violence. Clearly this is a lofty goal, but it can’t be done in silence or without a loving accountability to ourselves as survivors. We owe the hurting parts of ourselves acknowledgement and healing. We deserve it and we can’t wait for the rest of the world to catch up to us. Love with accountability is giving ourselves permission to love ourselves to health and the full good lives we deserve.
CeCelia Falls is the Founder and Director of Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, a volunteer group for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse from the African/Black/Caribbean Diaspora. She hosts a monthly open mic called OPEN Expressions in Harlem. She is a writer and educational consultant, and considers both Harlem and Oakland as home.