Woody Allen’s twenty-eight year old daughter, Dylan Farrow, has just written a powerful statement outlining the sexual abuse she says she endured by her father, Woody Allen, when she was seven years old. The famous director strongly denies the allegations, and claims that Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, is responsible for the false claims. A friend and filmmaker colleague has written a strong opinion piece defending Woody Allen.
Woody Allen is presumed innocent. However, having represented many child sexual abuse victims for decades, I find Dylan’s story is highly credible. Here’s why.
1. She is not seeking anything from Woody Allen. She is not suing him. No criminal case is pending. (Nor could there be, due to the statute of limitations.) She is not selling a book or movie or anything else. Her sole motivation appears to be to tell her story. When sexual abuse victims grow up and get healthy, telling is a crucial, life-affirming step. Secrecy is toxic. Telling is liberating. It takes the shame off the victim’s shoulders and places it squarely where it belongs: on the perpetrator.
2. She spoke out immediately after the incident, when she was seven years old. Many victims take years or decades to tell. Many keep the secret to their graves. According to reports, Dylan Farrow endured Woody Allen’s alleged creepy but not criminal behaviors (putting his head on her naked lap, his thumb in her mouth) but told shortly after he sexually assaulted her, asking innocently whether this is something fathers do to daughters. This is not a story she just came up with.
3. Blaming the mother is a tired, common strategy for those accused of sexual abuse. (Mothers also get blamed when they fail to act promptly in response to a child’s accusation.) A loving, healthy mother will be sickened and outraged when a child tells on an adult for sexual abuse. This is how Mia behaved. She should not be faulted for it.
The claim that Mia Farrow manufactured all of this does not ring true because (i) Dylan reportedly told a babysitter first; (ii) Mia Farrow reportedly gave her daughter multiple opportunities to recant if she wanted to; and (iii) Dylan is now a mature, happy adult who would have no motivation to continue to lie for her mother, twenty two years later, who lives a thousand miles away from her.
Mia Farrow also did not sue Woody Allen for the sexual abuse of her daughter. She could have. She gained nothing by backing her daughter, and endured a nightmare in the courts and the media by doing so after a mandatory reporter went to the police with Dylan’s allegations. She has spent her life raising her own biological children as well as disadvantaged, often disabled children, and fiercely advocating for human rights for desperately poor Africans and victims of genocide.
4. Woody Allen not only has had a long-term, well-established interest in young girls, he’s never seen anything wrong with it. His film Manhattan, in which he stars, features a forty-two year old man in a sexual relationship with a seventeen year old high school student without any compunction whatsoever. (Don’t tell me things were different in 1979. Plenty of us opposed sexual abuse then too.) And more significantly, he demonstrated an outrageous ability to prey on Mia’s family by secretly engaging in a sexual relationship with Dylan’s teenaged sister Soon-Yi and taking explicit pornographic pictures of her. (He ultimately married her.) He made bizarre public statements showing an almost sociopathic lack of understanding of the devastating pain this caused to Mia and the siblings at the time, like:
“I didn’t find any moral dilemmas whatsoever, I didn’t feel that just because she was Mia’s daughter, there was any great moral dilemma. It was a fact, but not one with any great import. It wasn’t like she was my daughter.”
Not important! Not a moral issue at all! No wonder Woody Allen is kept from making public statements now, hiding behind his publicists and attorneys.
5. The lack of criminal findings tells us nothing. There was no finding of guilt, and no finding that Dylan or Mia was lying. In 1992 a prosecutor oddly announced that while there was “probable cause” to believe Dylan, he would not pursue the case because of the “fragility of the child victim.”
When it comes to allegations of sexual abuse, especially against wealthy, powerful men, the child is easily discredited and often loses. See, e.g., Roman Polanski. In this case the prosecutor is alleged to have persuaded Mia not to put Dylan through the ordeal of testifying. This is very common and completely outrageous. Children should be supported, prepared, and encouraged to testify. I have done this many times and they find it an empowering experience when it’s over. Testifying teaches a child to hold her head high, that she can speak her truth without being swallowed up by the earth, that she has done nothing wrong and is a hero for bringing justice to the predator and protecting future victims. Discouraging kids from testifying allows predators to escape justice and to prey on others.
Our legal system is entirely broken when it comes to child molestation. It’s heartbreaking. People contact me constantly seeking help for prosecutors who won’t prosecute, or police who won’t investigate.
6. Dylan’s story is entirely consistent with what we know about sexual abuse. Commonly, decades pass before a victim can become centered and brave enough to speak out. (Many never do.) Dylan’s details are powerful (such as getting sick looking at toy trains to this day and Woody’s claimed “grooming” behavior like putting his head in her naked lap and his thumb in her mouth) and consistent with the literature about the effects of molestation on its victims.
Woody Allen’s friend says that the idea of him molesting her in an attic when he was claustrophobic and there were others in the large house implies that child molesters behave rationally. Nothing could be further from the truth. Child molestation is inherently irrational, compulsive behavior. Little girls are commonly molested when family lurks in the next room. Little boys are victimized in homes, hotels, out of doors, anywhere and everywhere. The digital sexual assault Dylan alleged can happen in seconds and leave no trace.
Woody Allen’s publicist said that seven year old Dylan was unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Seven year olds do not fantasize about sex with their father. They don’t fantasize about sex at all. To a seven year old, sex is disgusting and unimaginable.
This matter will probably never be resolved, as no one is going to court now. But the least we can do is acknowledge the credibility of Dylan’s story, and, more broadly, show respect to other sexual abuse victims by avoiding tired myths about how and why they speak out.