Since the Golden Globes, and especially since Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times, everyone has been weighing in with their opinions on the matter of Farrow accusing Woody Allen of child molestation. Everyone’s opinion is different. Most are picking teams, siding firmly with or against each party involved, while others are more in the “this is a family matter, let’s not involve ourselves” camp. More still have attempted to remain fair and unbiased, discussing the facts and presenting each side with equal weight.
I do not feel that any of these approaches is inherently right or wrong. But, impartiality has never really been on my list of skills.
I must admit, I only became acutely aware of Dylan Farrow and the myriad struggles of her family in October when I first read both the original 1992 Vanity Fair story and its 2013 follow-up piece, one that was ostensibly about the effects of Allen’s abuse but became famous for the more attention-grabbing “Ronan Farrow might be Frank Sinatra’s son” part. That was the beginning of what has become a four-month descent into point-missing, finger-pointing and excuse-making.
And, now, courtesy of Allen via his attorney, we have the added element of implanted memories, a vague phenomena that stings of 1980s satanic ritual propaganda and bad SVU episodes. Memory implantation is of course a real thing, largely rooted in the research debunking repressed memories, but it seems to be a real thing in the way false accusations of rape are a real thing — it may happen, and that’s terrible, but it is the zebra to the horse of a victim telling the truth. Children handle and speak of abuse differently. Try asking a child to tell you how the milk spilled. Then try asking more than once. Then try grilling her about it over the course of six months. See how that goes. And, lest we forget, the early ’90s may not seem like that long ago, but it was a lifetime ago in terms of child abuse investigations.
The greatest sin in this whole debate is the idea that this is a private family issue. Not only because this is clearly public and has been for 20 years, be it through this open letter or past smear campaigns, but because to assign that designation to the subject of child abuse implies that it is secret, unsavory, not to be discussed. And with the backlash against Farrow, the words of those certain she is lying or that she is only the victim of a horrible mother, just serves to further the idea that victims should remain silent. Because why would they want to face this?
The issue with giving equal weight to both sides is it implies that each side is truly equal in terms of gravity, importance and truth. Allen’s side is that a child lied in collusion with a vindictive, conniving woman. The other side is that a child, a little girl, was sexually abused at the hands of her father, and that side is being told by a now 28-year-old woman, a woman who can tell what happened to her in chilling detail, who changed her name and had to start a new life for herself, who still deals with PTSD. Even if Allen turned out to be completely innocent, why is his side more palatable for so many people?
The responses to this story have been emotional and reactionary, and that’s understandable. It’s a horrific and complicated story with a long and terrible history. But side-picking and proclamations of guilt or innocence or “bitchery” are not helpful. They are damaging, with consequences far beyond this story.