Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

Opinion: Supporting Dylan Farrow

dylan-farrowThe world is reacting to the open letter written by Dylan Farrow, written in protest of the continued artistic lionization of her adoptive father Woody Allen, whom she accused of sexually abusing her when she was seven years old. Dylan reported the abuse then, back in 1992 and stands by her story to this day.

Please read Dylan’s letter in its entirety. In part she writes:

After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

Woody Allen lost custody of Dylan and two other children he had adopted with Farrow. He was not charged with a crime but as you can see from Dylan’s own account, there are many reasons that the prosecution might not have gone forward.

Columnist Nick Kristof reports: “There were charges and countercharges. A panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother. A Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence for a criminal case against Allen but that he was dropping criminal proceedings to spare Dylan. Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?”

Yes, the standard for criminal prosecution is beyond a reasonable doubt, but what about the court of public opinion? We are entitled to our own judgments on this. (Funny that some people, men in particular, who always seem to have an opinion on everything don’t want to have an opinion on this matter.) As Woody Allen is lionized by organizations like the Golden Globes, who last month gave him a lifetime achievement award and fawned over all the great things they said Allen had done for women in film, we are allowed to be skeptical, or disgusted.

So to Dylan Farrow I just want to say, I believe you. Thank you for speaking out, in opposition to a very powerful man. Your voice is important. You told your story when you were seven years old, and you are telling it again now.

For those of us listening, we have the choice to believe Dylan Farrow. We as a society do not really know what to do with the stories of abuse survivors who come forward, but the act of telling stories and having them be believed is important, a small step in revolution.

I keep thinking of Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958. On the surface, her family looked like the image of all-American perfection. But her family was hiding a secret, which was made extremely public decades years later when a reporter splashed the news on the on the front page of the Denver newspaper: Marilyn was in incest survivor. Her father had raped her repeatedly from age 5 to age 18. Van Derbur has become a powerful speaker against sexual abuse, and her revelation dissolves our cultural denials. Her book Miss America by Day tells her story, and brings home the fact that abuse can happen in any family, even “good” ones, even in ones that look “perfect” from the outside. This is scary; we don’t want it to be true. It would be a lot easier if it were not true, but it is.

Van Derbur speaks in the Darkness 2 Light “Stewards of Children” training video, and excellent training for all adults who work with kids. I am paraphrasing from memory, but Van Derbur tells a chilling story of how one day when her father was abusing her in her bedroom, Marilyn heard her mother’s footsteps come down the hall and stop outside the bedroom door. Everybody froze to see what happened. Marilyn hoped beyond hope that her mother would open the door and put a stop to the abuse. But then her mother walked away, and after that Marilyn knew that her mother would never help her. That is the level of blindness/denial/doubt/complicity that we need to overcome in our society.

When I look at Woody Allen’s situation, the fact that he lost custody of his three children, his behavior toward Dylan was deemed “grossly inappropriate” by the judge in the custody case, and the glaring fact that Allen had an affair with and then married another one of Mia Farrow’s daughters–whom he should have viewed as a stepdaughter–is all I need to know to doubt his credibility. And there is another glaring question to be asked: after all this, how on earth was Woody Allen allowed to adopt two more daughters with Soon-Yi Previn, in 1999 and 2000?

What does it tell us about ourselves if we do not believe Dylan Farrow? We may not know what to do with her story, but we deserve to hear it again, and give her credit for speaking out.

Recommended resources:

For more information about Darkness 2 Light, visit Their excellent, newly updated, two-hour Stewards of Children training can be taught to groups in person, or taken online.

As Center Director of Kidpower North Carolina, I also highly recommend the effective, positive personal safety and abuse prevention training offered by Kidpower. Our workshops for kids are success-based and not scary. Learn more and find resources including a library of free articles

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