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Did Woody Allen Sexually Abuse His Seven Year Old Daughter? Here's the Evidence For and Against

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | January 28, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | January 28, 2014 |

Three weeks ago, during a Golden Globes ceremony in which Woody Allen received a lifetime achievement award, Ronan Farrow — who is probably but maybe not the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow — snarkily tweeted, “Missed the Woody Allen tribute. Did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” During the same ceremony, Mia Farrow not only retweeted her son’s note, but declared that she was changing the channel to Girls when Allen’s achievement award was handed out.

This resurrected a lot of the old charges against Woody Allen over accusations that he had molested his seven-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow. It provoked some to re-examine a piece in Vanity Fair last year that not only included suggestions that Ronan Farrow was actually the son of Frank Sinatra, but for the first time, Dylan Farrow spoke publicly about the allegations that her father had sexually abused her in an attic. Dylan’s comments were mostly overlooked because of the more provocative headline, that Ronan may have been Sinatra’s child, but in light of Ronan’s tweet, the focus turned again to those allegations.

A few days later, a PBS documentarian and Woody Allen’s biographer came out, not exactly in defense of Woody Allen, but with a list of facts that laid out Allen’s side of the story. I admit that the facts about Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi actually cleared up a lot of misconceptions that many of us may have had about that relationship. It’s still not totally above board, but it’s not nearly as bad as what many of us who weren’t around at the time have been led to believe by exaggerated accounts over the years. I’ll include those bullet points here:

#1: Soon-Yi was Woody’s daughter. False.

#2: Soon-Yi was Woody’s step-daughter. False.

#3: Soon-Yi was Woody and Mia’s adopted daughter. False. Soon-Yi was the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and André Previn. Her full name was Soon-Yi Farrow Previn.

#4: Woody and Mia were married. False.

#5: Woody and Mia lived together. False. Woody lived in his apartment on Fifth Ave. Mia and her kids lived on Central Park West. In fact, Woody never once stayed over night at Mia’s apartment in 12 years.

#6: Woody and Mia had a common-law marriage. False. New York State does not recognize common law marriage. Even in states that do, a couple has to cohabitate for a certain number of years.

#7: Soon-Yi viewed Woody as a father figure. False. Soon-Yi saw Woody as her mother’s boyfriend. Her father figure was her adoptive father, André Previn.

#8: Soon-Yi was underage when she and Woody started having relations. False. She was either 19 or 21. (Her year of birth in Korea was undocumented, but believed to be either 1970 or ‘72.)

#9: Soon-Yi was borderline retarded. Ha! She’s smart as a whip, has a degree from Columbia University and speaks more languages than you.

#10: Woody was grooming Soon-Yi from an early age to be his child bride. Oh, come on! According to court documents and Mia’s own memoir, until 1990 (when Soon-Yi was 18 or 20), Woody “had little to do with any of the Previn children, (but) had the least to do with Soon-Yi” so Mia encouraged him to spend more time with her. Woody started taking her to basketball games, and the rest is tabloid history. So he hardly “had his eye on her” from the time she was a child.

OK, so it’s still Woody Allen running off his with ex-girlfriend’s very young (but not underaged) adopted daughter, but it’s not as bad as media accounts had exaggerated it over the years.

As to the sexual abuse allegations with Dylan Farrow, the biographer, Robert B. Weide, punched several holes in that account, as well. From The Daily Beast:

On August 4, 1992, almost four months after the revelation about Woody and Soon-Yi’s relationship understandably ignited a firestorm within the Farrow household, Woody was visiting Frog Hollow, the Farrow country home in Bridgewater, Connecticut, where Mia and several of her kids were staying. During an unsupervised moment, Woody allegedly took Dylan into the attic and, shall we say, “touched her inappropriately.” Later in the day, it was alleged that the child was wearing her sundress, but that her underpants were missing. The following day, Mia’s daughter allegedly told her mother what had happened, and Mia put the child’s recounting of the story on videotape as evidence. […]

I know I’m treading a delicate path here, and opening myself up to accusations of “blaming the victim.” However, I’m merely floating scenarios to consider, and you can think what you will. But if Mia’s account is true, it means that in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior, in a house belonging to his furious ex-girlfriend, and filled with people seething mad at him, Woody, who is a well-known claustrophobic, decided this would be the ideal time and place to take his daughter into an attic and molest her, quickly, before a house full of children and nannies noticed they were both missing. […]

As for the evidentiary videotape of young Dylan’s claims, it’s been noted that there were several starts and stops in the recording, essentially creating in-camera “edits” to the young girl’s commentary. This raises questions as to what was happening when the tape wasn’t running. Was Mia “coaching” her daughter off-camera, as suggested by the investigators? Mia says no—she merely turned the camera on whenever Dylan starting talking about what Daddy did. Maybe we should take Mia at her word on this. Since I wasn’t there, I think it’s good policy not to presume what took place. […]

On April 20, 1993, a sworn statement was entered into evidence by Dr. John M. Leventhal, who headed the Yale-New Haven Hospital investigative team looking into the abuse charges. An article from the New York Times dated May 4, 1993, includes some interesting excerpts of their findings. As to why the team felt the charges didn’t hold water, Leventhal states: “We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination.”

I admit that, after reading all of that, I had my own doubts about the sexual abuse allegations. If what Weide was saying was true, it didn’t all add up, and it certainly contained the suggestion that Mia Farrow orchestrated it out of spite, because she was (rightfully) bitter that Woody Allen had run off with her adopted daughter.

Then, this weekend, Dylan Farrow responded by recounting those abuse allegations again in The New York Times:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: 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.

In the back and forth, it’s this section that I find most interesting:

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.

Dylan Farrow is offering one fact — that her mother declined to prosecute despite findings of probably cause — while the lead investigator in the case is offering another, that the charges didn’t hold water because Dylan Farrow was an emotionally disturbed child and that there was evidence that Mia Farrow had coached her.

Who is telling the truth? Was there a case at the time, or was there not a viable case at the time? Did Mia Farrow decline to pursue the case, or was Mia Farrow blocked from pursuing the case?

I have no doubt that Dylan Farrow is telling the truth, or at least thinks she’s telling the truth. The incident in the attic either happened, or Mia Farrow provided enough details and hammered them home so frequently that a malleable seven year old convinced herself it happened. Woody Allen’s history certainly makes him suspicious, but Mia Farrow’s certainly had motive to plant the story in Dylan’s mind — she was going through a bitter custody hearing with an ex-boyfriend who was sleeping with her adoptive daughter. In a criminal case, with the burden of proof on the victim, Woody Allen would never be convicted. In a civil case, where the burden on the accuser less onerous, there is enough evidence that you could be damn sure it’d get settled before it went to trial. But the truth? Maybe only Woody Allen really knows, but he’s not exactly credible.

Sources: CNN, NYTimes, and The Daily Beast