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What Can We Learn from The Accusations Against Woody allen?

The current public drama of accusation being played out between Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen is a familiar dynamic to child abuse professionals who work in the family court arena. Unfortunately, child abuse experts know that family court is a difficult venue for a child who alleges sexual abuse to be protected. While in Dylan Farrow's case, the Judge protected her, in many cases children are forced into ongoing contact despite their allegations. The Leadership Council has researched cases of custody litigation in which children were placed with their alleged abusers and later judges reversed those decisions. Through our research we have identified how and why many courts fail to protect children. One of the main reasons is because many professionals are not well educated in this area and misinterpret the signs of abuse and attribute them to a vengeful parent. Many seek physical evidence when it is rare for physical evidence to exist in molestation cases. Below are some of the common misconceptions highlighted by the Woody Allen—Dylan Farrow case that led some professionals or court personnel to overlook child abuse in the cases we have studied.

Many people believe that if someone is guilty of abuse, he would be in jail. After reviewing numerous studies, Bolen (2001) found that offenders may be convicted in only 1-2% of cases of suspected abuse known to professionals. (see Child sexual abuse: Its scope and our failure. New York: Kluwer Academic). While many people accused of abuse defend themselves by emphasizing the fact that the prosecutor didn't go forward with the case against them, this means very little in terms of the truth of an abuse accusation. Few prosecutors are willing to try cases that rely on the testimony of a young child, as a child witness against a powerful man is not a case with a good chance of success. Especially since there are typically no physical injuries or physical evidence of abuse in molestation cases. Thus, the lack of prosecution should not be seen as evidence that a child is lying—only that the case would be hard to prove in court.

Many people believe that accusations of abuse during divorce are just a strategy to win custody. In fact, divorce is a logical consequence of finding out a partner is abusive and abuse claims during custody disputes are just as likely to be valid as those made at any other time. (see Myths That Place Children at Risk During Custody Disputes; see also My Thoughts on Dylan Farrow by Nancy Lee Grahn)

People believe coaching children to lie about abuse is common during divorce. In truth, purposefully false abuse claims account for less than 2% of abuse claims, according to government statistics.

While children are the ones who initiate accusations of abuse against them, the family court arena tries to recast all battles as between the parties, so that the allegations of the child are often referred to as the mother’s allegation if she supports her child. This automatically places the child's disclosure into the realm of “he said—she said” which makes it easy to discount.

Dylan Farrow says in her open letter, “I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me.” Unfortunately, such accusations against mothers are almost universal in these types of cases. The accused parent (usually the father) will set out to convince court officials that the mother is angry and vindictive and coached the child to report abuse. The mother and child are then viewed with suspicion while the accused assumes the stance of the innocent victim. This defense strategy is often successful as it plays into common myths about abuse allegations in custody cases (see Myths That Place Children at Risk During Custody Disputes).

Another important myth is the belief that a person who both appears and acts normal could not be a child molester. It is hard for most people to imagine how any person could sexually abuse a child. Because they can't imagine a "normal" person doing such a heinous act, they assume that child molesters must be monsters.  If the accused does not fit this stereotype (in other words if he appears to be a normal person), then many people will disbelieve the allegation, believing the accused to be incapable of such act. (see Child Abuse Myths). In truth, most perpetrators are otherwise normal appearing and acting members of society. Woody Allen's public presentation, the way he looks and his level of success in his field should not lead people to make assumptions about his private conduct. In other words, Dylan Farrow’s credibility is completely unrelated to Woody Allen's likeability as a person or talent as a filmmaker.

Some people believe that one instance of a boundary violation does not mean anything by itself. In fact, people who are willing to break known taboos and boundaries in one area are more likely to break them in others. For example, making sexual advances to your wife's daughter is a boundary violation that sets up the younger person for exploitation.  Even if the young person is over age 18, a relationship with a much older, powerful, father figure will have an unequal power dynamic that automatically make her vulnerable. It is more difficult to freely give consent to a sexual relationship with someone who is in a position of power and authority.

The following articles and documents shed further light on the dynamics of abuse allegations that arise during custody disputes.

Dylan Farrow's Disclosure

An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow
February 1, 2014, The New York Times
by Dylan Farrow

EXCERPT: "Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either."

Custody decision
Allen v. Farrow 197 AD2d 327 (1994)
Appellate decision by New York Supreme Court denying Woody Allen's petition for custody of his three children - including Dylan.

EXCERPTS: "...the testimony given at trial by the individuals caring for the children that day, the videotape of Dylan made by Ms. Farrow the following day and the accounts of Dylan's behavior toward Mr. Allen both before and after the alleged instance of abuse, suggest that the abuse did occur."

In 1990 at about the same time that the parties were growing distant from each other and expressing their concerns about the other's relationship with their youngest children, Mr. Allen began acknowledging Farrow's daughter Soon-Yi Previn. .... In December 1991 two events coincided. Mr. Allen's adoptions of Dylan and Moses were finalized and Mr. Allen began his sexual relationship with their sister Soon-Yi Previn.

In January of 1992, Mr. Allen took the photographs of Ms. Previn, which were discovered on the mantelpiece in his apartment by Ms. Farrow and were introduced into evidence at the IAS proceeding. Mr. Allen in his trial testimony stated that he took the photos at Ms. Previn's suggestion and that he considered them erotic and not pornographic. We have viewed the photographs and do not share Mr. Allen's characterization of them. We find the fact that Mr. Allen took them at a time when he was formally assuming a legal responsibility for two of Ms. Previn's siblings to be totally unacceptable. The distinction Mr. Allen makes between Ms. Farrow's other children and Dylan, Satchel and Moses is lost on this Court. The children themselves do not draw the same distinction that Mr. Allen does. This is sadly demonstrated by the profound effect his relationship with Ms. Previn has had on the entire family. Allen's testimony that the photographs of Ms. Previn “were taken, as I said before, between two consenting adults wanting to do this” demonstrates a chosen ignorance of his and Ms. Previn's relationships to Ms. Farrow, his three children and Ms. Previn's other siblings. His continuation of the relationship, viewed in the best possible light, shows a distinct absence of judgment. It demonstrates to this Court Mr. Allen's tendency to place inappropriate emphasis on his own wants and needs and to minimize and even ignore those of his children. At the very minimum, it demonstrates an absence of any parenting skills.

Momma Mia!
November 2013, Vanity Fair
By Maureen Orth

Orth interviewed Mia Farrow about her life noting that she and her children continue to deal with the wreckage from the sensational scandal that almost rent it apart 20 years ago. Dylan recounts for the first time the abuse that happened when she was a child.

EXCERPT: “I didn’t know anything formally wrong was going on,” Dylan said. “The things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn’t want to do what my elder told me to do.” The attic, she said, pushed her over the edge. “I was cracking. I had to say something. I was seven. I was doing it because I was scared. I wanted it to stop.” For all she knew, Dylan said, “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.”


Commentary in the Media

A Brief History of Woody Allen Being Creepy About Young Girls
February, 2, 2014, New York Daily Intelligencer 

By Joe Coscarelli

The author looks back at some early interviews of Woody Allen and finds passages that now seem relevant.

EXCERPT: "For instance, in the October 4, 1976 issue of People magazine, a 40-year-old Woody Allen, pre-Annie Hall, is profiled. It concludes on an upsetting-in-retrospect note about his sexuality (and disinterest in fatherhood):

He goes on: "I'm open-minded about sex. I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him." Allen pauses. "Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone," he ventures helplessly. "I admit to it all."

Woody Allen’s Good Name
February 2, 2014, The New Inquiry
By Aaron Bady

Bady points out the cost of presuming Woody Allen's innocence to his accuser, Dylan Farrow.

EXCERPT: "This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.

If you are saying things like “We can’t really know what happened” and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody Allen, The Daily Beast!, then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers. You are saying that he is on trial, not her: he deserves judicial safeguards in the court of public opinion, but she does not.

The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assuming she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured….

If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story."

Six Reasons Why Dylan Farrow is Highly Credible
February 3, 2014, The Naked Law
by Lisa Bloom, Legal Advisor and Analyst

Bloom, a lawyer and legal analyst who has represented child sexual abuse victims for decades, states why she finds Dylan’s story to be highly credible.

EXCERPT: "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."

Despite Woody Allen Backlash, We're Still Not Serving Abuse Victims
February 3, 2014, The Huffington Post
By Carina Kolodny

EXCERPT: "Hollywood and storybooks teach us that there is always a thick moral line between good and bad. Villains rarely have redeemable qualities, and heroes, while sometimes flawed, always have the best intentions at heart.

Somewhere along the line, we bought into these notions of good and bad and cast our characters accordingly....

It is high time we embrace a more dynamic way of seeing. The revolutionary filmmaker that Diane Keaton praises could be the same sexual deviant that Dylan Farrow condemns. We hurt victims when we pretend that the only perpetrators are ones lurking in the shadows."

Dylan Farrow’s Allegations Against Woody Allen: A Short List of Truly Unfair Considerations
February 4, 2014
Roger Canaff

Canoff, an attorney who has prosecuted, evaluated and consulted on child sexual abuse cases for over 15 years, corrects misinformation in the media that is being touted as reasons Allen should be exonerated and Dylan (or Mia Farrow) either blamed or pitied. Canoff rebutts an article in The Daily Beast that took Allen's side and the arguments favoring Allen.

EXCERPT: "2. The allegations arising in the context of a custody dispute. Many have bought into the pernicious myth that children are easily and often coached to fabricate allegations of sexual abuse, usually by their mother against a targeted male figure. This is a particularly attractive idea against Mia Farrow, whose perceived bitterness at Allen’s actions with Soon-Yi Previn fuel the myth. In fact, sex abuse allegations made during custody disputes have about the same very low rate of false reporting as in any other case. Further, the risk of suggestibility drops off sharply after around the age of 5, two years before Dylan reported."

Re-Watching Woody Allen: The newly-chilling themes that you can see throughout his movies
February 4, 2014 (updated February 5, 2014), Esquire
By Stephen Marche

EXCERPTS: "So what happens when you go looking for evidence of sex crimes in Woody Allen movies? If you look, you find it, again, and again, and again. Incestuous themes—stated or implicit—seethe throughout the whole of Allen's career. . . .

what are we to make of the scene in Love and Death (1975), in which the wise Father Andre tells the Allen character, "I have lived many years and, after many trials and tribulations, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing is…blond twelve-year-old girls. Two of them, whenever possible”?"

Dylan Farrow Speaks Out About Her Woody Allen Allegations – and the Backlash
February 6, 2014, People Magazine
By K.C. Baker

In this interview Dylan Farrow shares why she sent the notorious open letter to the New York Times about Woody Allen.

EXCERPTS:" "It took all of my strength and all of my emotional fortitude to do what I did this week in the hope that it would put the truth out there," says Dylan, 28, now a happily married writer. "That is my only ammunition. I don't have money or publicists or limos or fancy apartments in Manhattan. All I have is the truth and that is all I put out there."

"People are saying that I am not actually remembering what I remember. People are saying that my 'evil mother' brainwashed me, because they refuse to believe that my sick, evil father would ever molest me, because we live in this society where victim-blaming and inexcusable behavior -- this taboo against shaming the famous at the expense of their victims -- is accepted and excused."

She hopes her open letter will help sexual abuse victims come forward and seek help.

"I am hoping to help at least one person out there. And that's why I spoke out."

10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation
February 7, 2014, Vanity Fair

By Maureen Orth,

Notes that in the last week, a number of commentators have published articles containing incorrect and irresponsible claims regarding the allegation of Woody Allen’s having sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Orth sets the record straight by publishing 10 facts that support Dylan's accusation. For example, she details based on testimony that Dylan’s claim of abuse was consistent with the testimony of three adults who were present that day.

Woody Allen Speaks Out
February 7, 2014, The New York Times
By Woody Allen

Allen denies abusing Dylan Farrow and alleges Mia Farrow coached their daughter into accusing him of the abuse and questions whether Dylan actually wrote the letter detailing her accusations.

EXCERPTS: "Not that I doubt Dylan hasn’t come to believe she’s been molested, but if from the age of 7 a vulnerable child is taught by a strong mother to hate her father because he is a monster who abused her, is it so inconceivable that after many years of this indoctrination the image of me Mia wanted to establish had taken root?" ....

"One must ask, did Dylan even write the letter or was it at least guided by her mother? Does the letter really benefit Dylan or does it simply advance her mother’s shabby agenda? That is to hurt me with a smear. There is even a lame attempt to do professional damage by trying to involve movie stars, which smells a lot more like Mia than Dylan."

Dylan Farrow Responds to Woody Allen: 'Distortions and Outright Lies'
February 7, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter.

EXCERPT: "His op-ed is the latest rehash of the same legalese, distortions, and outright lies he has leveled at me for the past 20 years. He insists my mother brought criminal charges -- in fact, it was a pediatrician who reported the incident to the police based on my firsthand account. He suggests that no one complained of his misconduct prior to his assault on me -- court documents show that he was in treatment for what his own therapist described as “inappropriate” behavior with me from as early as 1991. He offers a carefully worded claim that he passed a lie detector test -- in fact, he refused to take the test administered by the state police (he hired someone to administer his own test, which authorities refused to accept as evidence). These and other misrepresentations have been rebutted in more detail by independent, highly respected journalists…"

Woody Allen Is Not a Monster. He Is a Person. Like My Father.
February 7, 2014, The Gawker
By William Warwick

EXCERPT: If Woody Allen is now written into history as a monstrous child molester, child abuse is more likely to continue. Because if we are unable to stomach the fact that Woody is not a monster but a human being who did something monstrous, we will continue to stoke the fires of archetype, perpetuating the notion of the picture-perfect pedophile, the one whose evil shines through like a 100-watt black lightbulb.

I admire Woody for rejecting Hollywood awards culture and consistently churning out reasonably watchable films.... Yet I know too that Dylan Farrow is telling the truth. And it makes me sick to witness the vile double standard by which our society measures abuse survivors – questioning their credibility based on their behavior, when that behavior is likely the result of the trauma they have endured. Who in the world finds it plausible that Dylan was an emotionally disturbed kid who concocted a false memory from her inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, rather than a kid who had been systematically traumatized within the sanctity of an otherwise reasonably stable home and so could not fully integrate the experience?

My Thoughts on Dylan Farrow
February 9, 2014
by Nancy Lee Grahn

Grahn states: "since so many pundits are basing their opinions on “victim blaming,” “mother blaming,” or a misunderstanding of child sexual abuse and the courts’ treatment of it, and since Dylan’s open letter speaks directly to the legal system’s mishandling of her childhood trauma, I want to share with you some important facts that expose just how broken the family court system is, particularly for children who have suffered sexual abuse by a parent or authority figure."

Grahn reviews what we know about child sexual abuse accusations: Children hardly ever fabricate allegations of sexual abuse; Maliciously fabr­cated allegations of child sexual abuse are exceedingly rare; Medical evidence is very rare in cases involving child sexual abuse; The single most important indicator of child sexual abuse is disclosure by the child to a trusted adult.

Choosing Comfort Over Truth: What It Means to Defend Woody Allen
February 3, 2014, The Nation
by Jessica Valenti

EXCERPTS:  "We know one in five girl children are sexually assaulted. Yet when victims speak out, we ask them why they waited so long to talk. We question why don’t they remember the details better. We suspect that they misunderstood what happened.

We know that abusers are manipulative, often charismatic, and that they hide their crimes well. We know that they target women and children who society will be less likely to believe—low-income women, children of color, the disabled, women who can be discredited as “crazy.” Yet when the caretakers of children who have been abused come forward, we call them “vengeful,” as Allen’s lawyer called Mia Farrow. We accuse them of trying to “alienate” their children from the abusing parent....

We know—as Aaron Bady at The New Inquiry wrote—“We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges.”

Yet despite all of these things that we know, our culture will bend over backward to inject doubt into Dylan Farrow’s harrowing open letter about being sexually assaulted by Allen."


Letters of Support for Dylan

What Would Make You Believe a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse?
by Andrea Grimes, Senior Political Reporter, February 4, 2014, RH Reality Check

EXCERPT: "The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough....

This is the enduring story of rape culture, the eternal lie: Give us the perfect victim, and we will believe you! That’s all they’re asking for—just one perfect victim, and then we can talk about all of this rationally! Send us someone we don’t have so many concerns about! This is a great deceit, and it is borne out of a cultural narrative that has no place for listening, only a place for victim-blaming, only a place for reinforcing stories that do not too terribly upset our Friday night movie binges.
I’m not asking you to decide, today, whether Woody Allen is a child abuser, or to preach fire and brimstone the next time someone picks up a copy of Manhattan. I am asking you to do something more powerful, more long-lasting, more revolutionary: Listen to survivors. Understand that our stories are not sad addenda, but part of our whole being, part of the people you love or hate or see in the elevator sometimes at lunch. See us not as victims, or characters, or some unidentifiable, sad and tragic “other,” but as the whole people we are, moving in and out of your lives.

Listen to us, so that we can listen to ourselves. "

Dear Dylan
Wendy Murphy
New England Law|Boston

EXCERPT: "I want you to know that by speaking out against an extremely powerful man, you will inspire many other frightened and traumatized victims to do the same.
Your story is common, alas, as is the silence of many, many children..."

Dylan Farrow Speaks Out about Sexual Abuse
by Barry Goldstein

EXCERPT: "Much of the public and indeed many professionals do not realize how difficult it is to prove child sexual abuse. Many types of sexual assault do not leave physical or DNA evidence and in other cases the physical proof may be gone by the time the child reveals the assault. Nevertheless, many people expect physical proof or DNA evidence and this alone can create a reasonable doubt in some minds. As the letter from Dylan reminds us, sexual assault is an extremely painful and embarrassing experience. We would not expect an adult rape victim to speak about the worst event in her life without developing a trusting relationship with her therapist and yet many professionals expect children to reveal all the details after very minimal discussion designed to create trust between the child and investigator. In this case it appears that the reluctance of Dylan to speak openly with strangers was used by Allen to try to discredit her complaint."

Dear Dylan
Jennifer Collins
Executive Director,
Courageous Kids Network

EXCERPT: "Like you Dylan, I too am 28 years old. I am a grown woman. I know what happened to me in my childhood and I know what behaviors, memories, “brainwashing” both parents tried to instill in me. My father told me for years that it was my entire fault. It took a long time for me to get over the guilt and to accept that it wasn’t. On a different note, my mother tried her best to “brain wash” me to go to church every Sunday and to refrain from eating meat on Fridays. That didn’t work either.  I am my own person. I know what happened to me and I speak the truth.

Most people know that you are telling the truth. There are some who will say it is impossible because your father doesn’t “look like an abuser” or that “your mother must have put you up to it.” Worst yet will be when someone accuses you of imaging it.

Ignore them. You know what happened to you.   You know the truth and for what it is worth I believe you!"

How To Undermine A Rape Victim 101
February 3, 2014
The Belle Jar blog

EXCERPT: "Do not treat the victim as if they are a person with agency and thoughts and feelings – instead, treat them as an intellectual exercise, their life a puzzle to be solved, their words an argument to be defeated. Do not imagine yourself in their place, what it must be like to write a letter about the abuse they’ve suffered at their rich and powerful father’s hands. Do not try to think about what it must be like to have the entirety of the Hollywood machine working against you, swaying the minds of the population against what you are saying. Do not picture the anguish you might feel at seeing scores upon scores of people trying to discredit you, trying to trip you up, trying to defend the man who raped you, the man they all love so very much."