Mothering has the capacity to be an empowering, challenging, and rewarding experience. However, this article reviews some of the ways that mothering as a survivor of sexual assault or/and having a child who is the result of intimate relationship rape can be all of the above while also traumatizing, triggering, mind-numbing, terrifying, silencing, painful, and heartbreaking. Additionally, co-parenting with someone who has sexually assaulted you is a lifelong trial that requires negotiation between taking care of yourself and taking care of your child(ren).
All community accountability work is science fiction, because it calls us to create that which has never been created. At least, not yet.
–inspired by Octavia’s Brood
I don’t trust an activist who does not take care of herself.
My mother was raped for the first time when she was a teenager. My mother, a small-town girl from a booming industrial village in central Pennsylvania, was sodomized by a local college boy with her body pressed into saliva-moistened leather seats of a red convertible my grandparents could never have afforded. There was another and more sexual violence during her heavy using years before she got clean, but it was the experience of being a young woman– drunk, aroused, deeply curious, and losing her body for the first time–that she wanted me to know about first. I was 15 or 16 when she first shared this history with me.
“That which is not just, is not the law.”
William Lloyd Garrison
I have been thinking often, of late, about the function of law, the way it is utilized by those who need it and the ways it is used with the intent to wound, particularly by those who critique it most rigorously. Too often both in and out of the classroom, I have found myself facing folks—activists, anarchists, abolitionists–I have least suspected to invoke the law as weapon against loved ones, against friends intentionally and at times, most carelessly.
A few months ago, I found myself in a glowing disagreement with a co-worker about the design of our classroom. It was not, he argued, suitable for our youngest student. I countered that it was wholly appropriate and compliant, in every way, with safety standards designed for such an environment. I offered a few concrete examples. He—a brilliant, committed educator, anarchist/activist/queer/white—growing increasingly frustrated in our conversation, blurted out, “You know, I have already accepted that I work in an illegal place, but…”
I stopped him immediately, “Wait. You just said illegal. There is nothing illegal about my school, this classroom, regarding safety or otherwise. Absolutely nothing.”
“Yeessss,” he insisted, stretching his words. “Yes, it’s true, yes…”
This letter is an open letter response to an email sent to us by a long-time, well-known Black feminist-identified organizer in our community who made a choice to side with a man, also a well-known organizer she knew, who harmed one of our collective members. We received her email–both belittling and insensitive–shortly after the woman who was harmed met with her and shared her story, openly, for the first time. Her response was a painful, illuminating moment for us in our community accountability organizing, and it was also one we commonly encounter. This letter is a call for clarity in our interventions to end sexual violence in our communities.
“I have all the guns and all the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within. Am I right, comrade?”
–Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power, 1993
I would like to share a story with you about rape and home.
It is an attempt to make sense of your choice—as a Black woman, a community activist, and mother– to stand by a Black man who has harmed a woman he once loved and shares children with. It is an attempt to lessen the fracturing pain of facing another Black woman’s back when sexual violence is spoken.
My father was not the first man to break my heart. He actually came much later, some years after Ari Bailey.
Ari was not a lover at all.
He was my brother with a loud and wild laugh, so sharp and sure, it could overcome all empty space in a room. A few months ago, I told Yan, his best friend, that I can still hear Yan’s laugh—certain, puncturing all stillness, just like Ari’s—when I think of our time together in the spring of 1993.
I was 20 years old when we met.
Why is the world always easier to fix/than our own homes?
We cannot live without our lives.
–Banner held by Combahee River Collective members protesting the sexual assault and murder of twelve Black women in the Boston area in the first six months of 1979
The Third Eye Collective is led by female-identified people of Black/African descent who are victims and/or survivors–all of us resistors–of sexual violence. Many Black girls and women who have experienced sexual violence at the hands of family, intimate partners, and community members, have also had direct, lived experiences as prisoners of punitive state institutions defined broadly to include jails, prisons, open or closed facilities, remand centres, immigrant and refugee detention centers, mental hospitals, foster care, group homes, child protective services, and domestic violence shelters. When confronted with gendered and sexualized violence in our families, communities, and institutional spaces, Black cis- and trans- girls and women have very few–if any–viable avenues open to us that we can take to effectively address this violence without further criminalizing us. Because many of us experience physical abuse and sexual violence at the hands of the police and other representatives of the state, we are reluctant to rely on the criminal legal and punishment systems for justice, redress, and response. We have good reason not to call the police when we experience violence. Our collective refusal also stems from our yearning to abolish the carceral state and create new relationships based upon mutual respect and accountability as well as decolonial forms of collective belonging, self-recognition, and sovereignty.
In this video essay directed and produced by Lena Palacios and “MIZShama”, members of the Third Eye Collective perform Black feminist Ntozake Shange’s poem “With No Immediate Cause” while riding the Montreal metro.
Shange’s poem begins with statistics that viscerally pushes us into awareness about the endemic and unrelenting nature of intimate, sexual, and state violence against Black women and girls (“every 3 minutes a woman is beaten/every five minutes a woman is raped/every ten minutes a little girl is molested”).
Lena Palacios is an emerging video artist and was the recipient of the SAW Video Media Art Centre‘s Cultural Equity Production Fund. The Cultural Equity fund is a production support program that provides opportunities for visible minority artists to express themselves creatively through the medium of video.
With No Immediate Cause
every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow Continue reading