The first I heard of the allegations against Woody Allen came with the publication of Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter in the New York Times. And I watched, as people around me began to debate the legitimacy of Farrow’s claims. I listened as people said that he “probably didn’t do it” and “we can never know;” that Allen was never convicted and it “wasn’t fair to believe he was guilty.” To some extent, people seemed unwilling to outright call Dylan Farrow a liar, but they were also unwilling to say that they believed Dylan Farrow.
I believe Dylan Farrow.
Woody Allen responded to Dylan Farrow’s story with his own Op Ed in the New York Times. In it, he explains that he had willingly cooperated with the investigations, that the medical team at Yale-New Haven Hospital had found no evidence of sexual misconduct, and that Dylan had been coached by her mother Mia Farrow, who raised the allegations out of spite. For those who are desperate to believe in Allen’s innocence, I am sure this came as a relief. Woody Allen never explicitly calls Dylan Farrow a liar, either: he refers to “expert testimony” that Dylan was likely a stressed out, vulnerable 7-year-old who was coached by her mother.
There are numerous problems with this story, however. For starters, many of his explanations are simply untrue. The Yale-New Haven medical testimony that Allen cites was rejected by Judge Wilkes as unreliable, and was not accepted by the Connecticut state prosecutor who commissioned it; the panel which submitted the testimony consisted of two social workers who never testified themselves, and a pediatrician who signed off without having met Dylan Farrow. In addition, though he says he willingly took a polygraph test, Allen actually refused to take one administered by the state police, and the one he took was taken by his legal team and was not accepted as evidence by the state. Allen may not have been tried, but the prosecutor publicly stated that he had probable cause to charge Woody Allen, but did not do so because the trial would have caused Dylan Farrow undue emotional harm.
Before I even read that background, however, I believed Dylan Farrow. I believe Dylan Farrow because my experience working with survivors of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse tells me that we should believe survivors when they come forward. I believe Dylan Farrow because to come forward with allegations, in a society that rejects and punishes survivors of sexual violence, requires bravery and conviction. I believe Dylan Farrow because when we as a society refuse to accept the testimonies of survivors, we let perpetrators get away with abuse. I believe Dylan Farrow because there are thousands of Dylan Farrows out there who are too scared or feel too powerless to come forward the way she did.
Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check recently published her own account of coming to terms with childhood sexual assault. She criticizes the ways in which we dismiss the testimony of survivors in favor of that of “experts” who were not even there. Medical evidence is difficult to acquire, and survivors of any sexual violence, and particularly childhood sexual abuse, are likely to tell incoherent or inconsistent stories as they struggle to make sense of things; and as parents or other adults have to explain to them the right terms to use or the significance of what has happened, the stories start to sound rehearsed-~-in many cases causing people to dismiss the testimony of young survivors.
But if it’s impossible for young survivors to be believed, then the game is rigged. The statistics tell us that one in five girls and one in twenty boys is the victim of childhood sexual assault, but no one wants to believe it when a survivor is looking them in the eye and telling them what happened. That’s not just true of childhood sexual assault. In the last few years, we have witnessed horrible backlash against survivors of sexual assault who came forward, as people refused to believe them or blamed them for what had happened.
The only way for us to make our world safer is for us to start believing survivors of violence when they come forward. For too long, we’ve been set on a particular narrative of what it means to be a victim, and rejected everything else; for too long, we’ve prioritized people according to their status instead of their stories. The more stories that survivors are able to tell, the more people begin to listen to them, the more society will eventually come to terms with what is happening, and finally be able to change it.
I know I’m not a judge, I’m not a jury, and my opinion here means nothing. I know you might say that this was never decided in court, and now it’s too late for that to happen. I know you might say that Dylan Farrow was being opportunistic. But listen to her story. What would it take for you to believe her? Why do we reject, on face, the idea that just because someone is famous or powerful, that they might also be guilty?
I may not have any authority, but I’ve watched as facts have come to light, and I’ve read Dylan Farrow’s story.
And I believe Dylan Farrow.