When I read the article by Dylan Farrow, I was shocked at her bravery, honesty and resiliency. I was surprised at how she was willing to stand up against someone who is revered by our society as a talented artist. However, I was more shocked by those who are willing to defend Woody Allen, a man who has been accused of child sexual abuse by one adopted daughter and married the other one. The myriad of reasons for this defense show a complete lack of understanding for the complex trauma of a child sex abuse victim. Let’s discuss some of those reasons:
1. She is lying because she wants attention. As a survivor of child sex abuse, sometimes I am asked if I want to be on television or in the newspapers. In reality, I do want to be on television or in the newspapers. But I don’t want to talk about my childhood story of pervasive sexual abuse and trafficking. I want be on television because I have won the Nobel Peace Prize or cured cancer. Nobody wants to talk about being victimized, but there is a longing deep inside of a sex abuse survivor to speak the truth. In many cases, speaking the truth may be necessary to heal from the abuse. In some cases, speaking the truth may bring about the justice that was evasive for so long. It is not about attention.
2. She is lying because she wants money. I don’t know about Dylan’s financial situation. She is the daughter of Mia Farrow, so she is probably not starving or homeless. However, I can speak to my own situation. When I choose to speak out against my abuser, money never crossed my mind. I thought about my father fulfilling the thousands of death threats from my childhood. I thought about retaliation toward my children. I thought about all the nasty comments from people like you. I thought about being excluded from my extended family for the rest of my life. But the money wasn’t a consideration. If you have lived a normal life without abuse, money might drive your decisions, but for me, avoiding death is pretty high on my list of priorities.
3. She wanted it. This is probably the most ridiculous of all the defenses. Children are not sexual beings. They are not “promiscuous”. They don’t wonder how long they have to wait until someone invades their private parts again. Depending on their age, they may not even know what sex is, or that they are having it. They may know that this is a form of attention or affection, possibly the only form that this adult is capable of providing. But I guarantee they are not enjoying themselves. They are scared. They are children. They want to play. They want to learn. They want to have innocent and trusting relationships with adults. They don’t want to have sex.
4. He could not possibly sexually abuse. He is too talented to do that. As a society, we love to profile the pedophile. It gives us all a collective sigh of relief if we can say, without any doubt, this is what a pedophile looks like. I have some unfortunate news for society. I was raped by a banker, a Colonel in the Air Force, a car salesperson, a housing contractor, and many other people who purchased me with their middle-class, college-level incomes. I was never sexually abused by a creepy homeless person lurking in the bushes. It didn’t happen. That is not what pedophiles look like. They are everywhere. They are talented artists. They are successful business people. They are military personnel. Stop putting your comfort level above the truth. The truth is never comfortable.
5. In a court of law, he would be innocent until proven guilty. This is true … in a court of law. But there are rarely witnesses in sex abuse cases. It is the child’s word against the adult’s word. In our society, most are willing to believe an adult over a child. In the cases where the adult is particularly famous or powerful, the child is even less likely to be believed. In some cases, like the Allen case, justice may be avoided completely because of the defendant’s status but be disguised as benefiting the accuser. “We are saving her from a nasty trial and the publicity that will follow.” But in reality, children don’t lie about this. They don’t make up sexual abuse. They have no reason to make it up. They want to be validated. They want to be supported. In a court, an abuser may be innocent until proven guilty. But this is not a court room. This is a child’s life.
Dylan Farrow is an adult. She can take some harassment and intolerance because she has a support network and coping skills. She will find a way to deal with the “Woody Allen defenders” though it won’t be without pain. But if you don’t believe her, what does that mean for the abused child who might choose to come to you for help? Will you stay in your comfortable world where bad things don’t happen to children unless they ask for it, want attention or hang out in dangerous locations? If a child comes to you about their abuse, will you allow that child to continue experiencing trauma without support? Will you make a difference by changing your understanding, no matter how uncomfortable? Or will you perpetuate the pervasive scourge of child sexual abuse for yet another generation?
2/7 Correction: Soon-Yi and Dylan were not Woody Allen’s adopted daughters. They were Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters. Woody Allen was not their father. He was their father figure.