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Duty to Repair.

Love WITH Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse

By Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Chico, CA; AK Press, 2019, 360 pp., $20.00, paperback

"To reckon is, in fact, an act of love," Darnell L. Moore writes in the introduction of Love WITH Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse. But how do we get to that place of reckoning? How do we hold space for acts of love in these precarious political times? There is no perfect moment for a reckoning. The intervention staged by this book centers the work that is already being done, and how much there is left to do. It offers a vision we can embrace right now: love with accountability, healing with reconciliation, justice with transformation.

Edited by award-winning documentary filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Love WITH Accountability brings together forty voices of survivors and advocates to consider the cycles of abuse and trauma perpetuated by cultural silence around child sexual abuse. The anthology is rooted in Simmons's project of the same name, launched in 2016 and funded by the Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellowship to examine how collective accountability is crucial to addressing this issue. Child sexual abuse is not an isolated or insignificant issue, Simmons points out--it is a global epidemic. Her vision of love with accountability harnesses the power of lived experience and testimony to catalyze vital disruptions.

Centered in this anthology are the stories of Black diasporic survivors and advocates, underlining how the silence around child sexual abuse overlaps in insidious ways with other forms of marginalization. Through personal essays, poetry, and dialogues, they demonstrate the power of transformative storytelling, insisting on the validity and truth of their experiences--ones that are too often denied or suppressed. Taken together, they tell a story that is deeply moving, at times difficult to read, but always insistent on the necessity of hearing and dealing with challenging things. It affirms survivors and smashes stigmas. It reminds us of our complicity in perpetuating patterns of violence, leaving future generations vulnerable. It urges us to hold ourselves accountable, a sense of collectivity that comes from within.

"What does accountability look like when it moves from theory to reality?" Loretta J. Ross asks in this anthology. Her question draws a common thread across the struggles each author faces. Paying lip service to the notion of accountability is one thing, putting it into practice--with all the skepticism, heartbreak, and disavowals it inevitably induces--quite another. Love WITH Accountability addresses the complexities of making that move from theory to practice on multiple levels, giving due attention to the lived experiences of individual people, the negotiations that must be made within communities, and the values we perpetuate as a culture.

Within ourselves as individuals, how do we work through our own sense of anger, betrayal, sadness, and fear toward healing? Through sharing their stories, survivors ponder how to reconcile experiences of abuse with their search for love and understanding. Bringing these stories out of the shadows enables survivors to find and inspire one another, to create safe spaces for all to share their truths.

Within our families and communities, what are our responsibilities to each other? How do we act preventatively to break the cycles of abuse and silencing? Love WITH Accountability offers ways in which to empower our children: modeling bodily autonomy, discussing "adult" issues like sex, consent, and mental health. And, on the other side of the coin, how do we respond to acts of violence that have already been committed? What kinds of support and reparations can we provide for survivors? How do we hold our loved ones accountable when their wrongdoings come to light?

Finally, within our culture, what models do we use to think about love, accountability, and justice? Such questions are especially pressing when human rights abuses run rampant, and known perpetrators of sexual violence occupy the highest offices in the country. Many of the authors in Love WITH Accountability question the utility of the criminal (in)justice system in rehabilitating abusers, normalizing the multifaceted possibilities of accountability as a necessary alternative to oppressive systems that do not fully represent or support our communities. As Dr. Danielle R. Moss puts it, "Is shunning and punishment at the beginning or the end of the story?" How can we understand accountability beyond punitive measures? How do we acknowledge that people can both do harm and be harmed--and that child sexual abuse is often a factor in abuses committed later in life? Dr. Kai M. Green encourages us to "believe that the harm-doer can be different and do better." We must look beyond the law to instigate true social change. We need accountability mechanisms that address the needs of survivors without discarding harm-doers to an uncaring, ineffective system.

Moreover, this book suggests that we need to think about accountability as a radical form of love, one that gets at the root of our social ills and pushes us to think beyond our current reality--to imagine other ways of relating to each other, to recognize the role we all play in upholding a violent culture and work toward transformative justice. Love WITH Accountability envisions and offers us steps toward creating that more equitable and collectively oriented world.

Books like these challenge us to think and act differently, but they can also model the radical compassion contained in their pages. In Love WITH Accountability, the word breathe appears in between every five chapters, an invitation to the reader to pause, take their time, and ground themselves before moving forward. It is a small but by no means negligible insertion; it reminds us that this kind of work can be as rewarding and necessary as it can be demanding and disheartening. The generosity and compassion of these writers is palpable throughout, and their invitation to think with them should be taken up by all of us.

Reviewed by Jamia Wilson

Jamia Wilson is director of the Feminist Press and the former VP of programs at the Women's Media Center. She is the author of Young, Gifted, and Black, the introduction and oral history in Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World, Step Into Your Power: 23 Lessons on How to Live Your Best Life, ABC's of AOC, and the co-author of Roadmap for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Advocacy, and Activism for All.
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Title Annotation:Love with Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse
Author:Wilson, Jamia
Publication:The Women's Review of Books
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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