On Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow, and debating sexual abuse

Over the past few weeks, Woody Allen has been the subject of intense speculation. While the  Golden Globes honoroed his achievement in film, his ex Mia Farrow and son Roanon Farrow let some barbs fly on twitter, implying that he had molested his daughter Dylan Farrow. This erupted a firestorm of “did he or didn’t he?” commentary on blogs, in the news, and on social media. Finally, last week Dylan Farrow broke her silence in an open letter on NYTimes.com

“When I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”

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One might think that an admission of sexual abuse from a young woman would quiet the debate, but it only seemed to fan the flames. Even more folks began weighing in on whether or not Woody Allen really molested his daughter. The noise of the mob suggesting that Dylan is lying has been so deafening that I thought it might be time for a refresher course on sexual abuse, and when it’s okay to question a victim who is self-reporting her story.

Sexual abuse is a profound trauma for a child that can have far-reaching psychological ramifications. It is one of the most difficult and damaging events that can occur to a child. As a therapist, the revelation of sexual abuse requires compassion and concern. It is a gross violation and it produces overwhelming shame. Many women (or men) who have been sexually abused will never share their stories, choosing to bear this secret alone. It is quite rare for someone to lie about sexual abuse. It is also quite difficult for people to talk about. Therefore, when someone discloses a history of sexual abuse, it should be taken seriously.

Now, let’s go over the valid reasons to accuse someone of lying as they report their sexual abuse history:

Q: Is it okay to assume a person is lying because the perpetrator seems really nice?
A: No.

Q: What if the perpetrator is really talented?
A: No.

Q: What if the victim has a history of drug use?
A. Still not okay. In fact, sexual abuse and later drug abuse are correlated.

Q: Okay, what if the victim seems kind of unstable or histrionic?
A: Nope.

Q: What if the victim’s mom seems prone to drama?
A: No.

Q: What if the victim’s mom got a divorce?

A: Still no

Q: What if I read a blog post by someone who knew them?
A: No.

Q: What if someone on facebook convinced me it’s not true?
A: No.

Q: What if I really don’t want it to be true because it makes me uncomfortable?
A: No

In review, IT’S NEVER OKAY TO QUESTION SOMEONE’S ACCOUNT OF SEXUAL ABUSE unless you are the accused or representing the accused in a court of law. For everyone else, it’s not of our business, and publicly speculating that it’s a lie is perpetuating the rape culture that tells women that they should stay silent. Or worse, that it’s up for debate if they come forward.

Wondering if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth? It doesn’t matter. It’s not our place to question her story.


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