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Silence won't answer the Woody Allen abuse allegation


Woody AllenOn Saturday Dylan Farrow accused her adoptive father, the filmmaker and actor Woody Allen, of sexual assault for the second time. She first made these allegations when she was seven years old, in the context of the custody battle between her separating parents. At the time, the case was considered too weak to proceed to a criminal trial. This time, she's asking the people who have worked with and supported him to respond and to be in some way accountable for any part they may have played in promoting or protecting him.

Now 28, she's asking that we not only take her claims seriously, but that we act on them. She's asking, after years of accolades for her adoptive father's genius, for the people who have worked with her father to bear some responsibility for her pain. This is some of what she said in an open letter published on 1 February in a New York Times blog: 

That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.

That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, 'who can say what happened', to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser's face — on a poster, on a T-shirt, on television — I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

Every week I sit across from women and men who have been sexually assaulted by members of their families. In over 15 years of practice, only two have witnessed the public withdrawal of privilege of their abusers. This is a fair representation of the statistical likelihood of abuse allegations leading to prosecution in Australia. The rest, including the daughters and sons of church officials, police officers, doctors, politicians and celebrities, have had to face the continued public adulation of their abusers alongside their silent suffering or public discrediting

So it both astounds and saddens me that in the outcry about Dylan Farrow's accusations, a common response has been that it's none of our business, that instead it's a matter for the family. Actor Alec Baldwin, asked by Farrow and his own fans to acknowledge that he may have played some part in supporting her accused abuser by continuing to work with him, responded with the following tweet: 'What the f&@% is wrong w u that u think we all need to b commenting on this family's personal struggle?'

Cate Blanchett, also named in Farrow's open letter, responded with sympathy for the family.

Sexual assault is not a family issue. As our own Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse so recently tried to teach us, it's a widespread public health issue that touches us all. We are all responsible for the protection of children. Given the current estimated abuse statistics that one in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted before the age of 16, it is extremely unlikely that we haven't lived with, worked with, played with or studied with someone who has abused a child.

We are all surrounded by women, children and men who have a history of sexual abuse. If we leave sexual assault up to the family, then we create a large social circle of protection around abusive men and women, and we leave a small number of family members to fight the sexual abuse of children alone.

There has been an enormous amount of speculation about whether these allegations are true. But that is not our question to answer. It is not even our business. Our business when there have been allegations of sexual assault against one of our friends, colleagues, heroes or family members is not to act like amateur detectives.

There is a real ethical concern when allegations that have been denied in court continue to be raised publicly. But at the same time, we need to acknowledge the court system's history of inadequacy in the area of sexual abuse and family violence. We need to be able to forge a difficult balance between making space for ongoing doubt and fuelling public vilification.

Our job can only be to listen when we are called to hear. Farrow has asked to be heard and like many who make accusations of sexual assault, she has been temporarily silenced in two very familiar ways: by speculation about the truth of her accusations and by a kind of terrible decorum that holds family privacy above safety.

We can avoid contributing to the silencing of victims by allowing ourselves to ask questions. Not about veracity but about sexual abuse itself. How can we be of assistance here? What can we do to ensure that we are not complicit? We need to take accusations of sexual assault seriously enough to suspend our belief in talent, prestige, power, beauty and position long enough to hear that our idols may be monstrous at home.

And we need to stop being complicit in the silencing of victims of sexual abuse by pretending it's a family matter. We keep hearing that it takes a community to raise a child. But it only takes one or two people to step back and throw their hands in the air for that child to fall.

Zoe Krupka headshotZoë Krupka is a psychotherapist who lectures and supervises research in the master of counselling program at the Cairnmillar Institute in Melbourne. Zoë's blog

Topic tags: Zoë Krupka, Woody Allen, Royal Commission, child abuse



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Existing comments

First of all,I would like to disagree that comments made by Baldwin and Blanchett can be interpreted the way you do - that sexual abuse is a family issue. We don't know what happened, or if anything happened - that's the issue they are referring to. The only outcome if the truth is ever revealed, is that either Dylan or Woody is telling an evil lie. There is no happy medium. We have already got to the stage in society where an adult, especially a man, cannot even be in the presence of a child for fear of an allegation being made. There is no presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Have we now got to the stage where parents, especially fathers, are being alienated from their own children? Will there be a family code of conduct where fathers cannot be left alone in the presence of their children in case an allegation is made that cannot by corroborated by another witnessing adult? God help us.

AURELIUS | 04 February 2014  

Good points. The Catholic Church has had its comeuppance in this area, and rightly so. But it's common knowledge to insiders that Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general has a sordid history of institutional sexual abuse going back at least to the early years of the film industry. Is the blowtorch going to be applied to Hollywood as it is to the Catholic Church? Given that the journalist profession is en masse joined at the hip to the entertainment industry, what are the odds? Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, etc, take a bow.

HH | 04 February 2014  

Bravo! A most well-balanced, intelligent and compassionate article. The cruel silence imposed on victims simply because people refuse to believe that their idols are monsters, is truly shameful. How can children ever be protected when those with power and popularity act like blind justice and prefer to turn their backs. We are all our brother's keeper.

Annabel | 05 February 2014  

In yesterday's letters to the editor (SMH) one correspondent asked "Is anyone listening to Dylan Farrow?" For Farrow, I would suggest, it's not only about being heard, it's also about her life never being the same and her abuser's (esteemed) life still being the same. For Farrow, the lack of resolution is compounded by Allen's continuing acceptance and adulation. Allegations must be proved in a court of law, rightly - it's a protection for all of us. Dylan Farrow would know this intellectually, but emotionally it's very different. Listen, respectfully.

Pam | 05 February 2014  

Zoe, I think one of the best points you make is to ask 'How can we be of assistance here?' and you suggest by listening. We do need to take each other's stories seriously. We do need to have things in the open.

Jorie Ryan | 05 February 2014  

A really thoughtful article. Thank you.

Moira | 05 February 2014  

But sadly false allegations of sexual abuse have occured; as a GP in the 80s and early 90s I saw two cases where a father had been falsely accused. In one case the mother was suffering from schizophrenia but in the other it was a deliberate and calculated tactic to gain custody. That mother brought her young daughter to me to seek medical confirmation of the alleged assault and the 'coaching' was blatant ("no darling, like I told you, daddy touched you on the 'gina') . In both cases the men suffered for years with loss of jobs, friends and self-esteem, one of the men attempted suicide. In both cases there was absolutely no evidence to support the claims but even after all legal action had been resolved the allegations persisted. So what do we do in a case like Allen's? Here is another opinion: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast.html I am no Allen fan, don't like his films, found his marriage to such a very young woman hard to take, but at what point do we say "that is an allegation without any supportive evidence, you can't continue to publicly say these things"?

chris g | 05 February 2014  

A thoughtful article indeed. Thank you. And Aurelius, your comment is exactly the sort of obfuscation and throwing of red herrings that acts as the oppressive silencing which Zoe writes about. Zoe's article does not seek to alienate fathers from their children. Her article asks us all to keep an open heart and to contemplate our own individual responsibility in this wide social issue. Attempting to close down the debate is unhelpful and destructive. I am grateful that Zoe has helped me think anew about this difficult issue.

Donna | 05 February 2014  

There is an interview with Woody Allen where he speaks about what has happened since the breakdown of his relationship with Mia Farrow. It is worth watching. The timing of the letter is interesting, with the Oscars coming up and the appeal to Hollywood stars. It doesn't help the credibility of Dylan Farrow. Paedophilia is the most evil crime as is a false accusation and in this case only two people know what actually happened or didn't. It is a very easy way to blacken someone's name and we need to be very careful in our judgement. Either way, they all need our prayers for healing and good to come out if this. I agree with Aurelius.

Jane | 05 February 2014  

Well! i think this is a terrible article. Woody A is innocent until proved guilty. That`s it.

Eugene | 05 February 2014  

Decades ago I did some consulting-room research which demonstrated that women who had experienced abuse in childhood had difficulty in learning to enjoy sex with the man they loved as adults. The research was time-consuming as when they had been asked for the first time in their lives whether they had experienced abuse it took considerable time to stem their tears and re-establish an appearance of composure. The upshot was that yes, abuse does make married life difficult, and that abuse is so common that the average secondary school class will contain at least one victim, probably two, and any full tram will contain several men who have abused children. The research was refused space by a medical journal on the grounds that "as Freud showed" women do have fantasies about their fathers.

DrMichael Grounds | 05 February 2014  

In my opinion. Allen seems to find twisted things amusing. His second last movie: To Rome with Love is trash. But he’s an intellectual genius he’s untouchable. Those ‘kissed by fame’ can say and do want they want and perhaps even get away with things others a remanded for.

Annoying Orange | 05 February 2014  

Can I add another difficulty. How do we as a community respond to someone who is on one hand a perpetrator of abuse, but who also has a lifetime of positive achievement in another area? We seem to want people to be either saints or monsters. We are not good at acknowledging that a person can be both. I have known someone in my own life who personifies this problem and it is emotionally and intellectually confusing. Woody Allen is a great film maker. Does the fact that he possibly is a perpetrator of abuse change that? To what extent do others around him share in his guilt, and does that mean that he therefore should never make another film?

Helen Parkes | 05 February 2014  

@Helen Parkes.That question sounds very much like a question the New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial Jasmine in Allen's new move would ask.

ha-ha | 05 February 2014  

Cui bono?

John Vernau | 05 February 2014  

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do. Woody was still married to Mia when he was having an affair with her 19-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. Some naked photos he had taken of her were discovered. Stacey Nelkin dated Allen in 1977, when she was 17 and he was 42. P.S. I am certain Freud also said short, and ugly men have the biggest ego’s. Look closely, Woody is both.

Contra Woody Allen | 05 February 2014  

Please continue the effort to bring this to public attention. The Royal Commission is only deaoing with inhstitutional offences, which, i have been told are minimal when considered against abouse within the family. I dill not attend any thing that involves Woody Allen

Gabrielle Jarvis | 05 February 2014  

Contra: Thanks for your comment but must point out that Mia Farrow and Woody Allen were ( fortunately) never legally married. That does not detract from the fact that there is something very creepy about a man who takes u with his de facto wife's adopted daughter, and that he apparently has failed to perceive that this might not be OK with everyone else. And to those who have brought up false allegations: what the hell does the young woman have to gain by her open letter apart from a desire for the truth to be revealed? It is now over 20 years since a judge ruled that her evidence was inadmissible and further suggested that her mother coached her. It seems tome that where there is smoke there is fire.

JR | 07 February 2014  

This discussion has now become a witchhunt (or should I say warlock hunt?) I have no desire to stifle any discussion about the abuse of childre - on the contrary I would like to open it up further - and that includes considering the possibility that Woody Allen is innocent (as already decided in court) and that everything else is speculation. Where there's smoke, there's fire? Yeah, a bit like burning or drowning witches to prove their guilt. And Woody's short stature means he is an abuser? Come on. Does anyone know what "allegation" means anymore?

AURELIUS | 08 February 2014  

Have you even read Dylan's open letter Aurelius, and the almost 3000 comments?

Contra Woody Allen | 11 February 2014  

....................Dylan, Thank you and take courage and faith and renewed trust in humankind from the fact that many, many people believe you and have always believed you and your mother. Woody Allen has always made me sick, his films are skewed, cynical voyeuristic romps through the bodies and minds of two dimensional fantasy women. Has anyone checked in with his adopted daughters? This story will go on and on. But you, Dylan, know you are not alone. Have a great life. I wish you continued healing and resolution.

A parent | 11 February 2014  

Yes Zoe, the loudest sound a victim hears is silence.

Jennifer Herrick | 12 February 2014  

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