Don’t Forgive, Don’t Forget: Why I Stand Behind Dylan Farrow

In 1977, Academy Award-winning director Roman Polanski raped a thirteen year old girl. In 1988, Sean Penn was arrested for beating Madonna with a baseball bat. Charlie Sheen was arrested for assaulting his wife in 2009, but his history of abusing women stretches back to his college days. And Woody Allen probably – definitely – molested his daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1993.

These statements make people uncomfortable. More often than not, slight amendments will be offered – “allegedly,” people will interject. “Nothing’s been proven.” Then the conversation will shift to how Annie Hall is a really great movie.

Well, no one’s arguing that you can’t separate a person’s body of work from their arrest records, but I would argue that the people who wince when you mention words like “rapist,” “pedophile,” or “batterer” do not simply want us to give Manhattan fair treatment. They do not want to just watch a movie for a few hours in peace.

No. These people, and our entire society, want the dark stain of transgression lifted altogether. We want it to go away. Because if we believe the survivors of their crimes, if we convict, the Woody Allens of the world won’t be able to make movies anymore. And that’s just too big a price to pay.

“We just don’t know the facts,” the world cries.

Here are some facts: according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, approximately 2 – 8% of sexual assault allegations are false. Between 4.7 and 7.6% of child sexual abuse allegations are false – in fact, nearly all research done on this topic shows that children tend to understate, rather than overstate, the extent of the abuse.

Yes, I know: everyone is innocent until proven guilty!  Unless, of course, they’re the victim – in which case, despite the research and the studies and the facts – they’re liars until proven truthful. They’re the ones who are put on trial.

When Dylan Farrow published her open letter on February 1st, she provided a clear, concise, and heartfelt account of her childhood abuse, and her words provided an insightful analysis of the way we forgive sex offenders and abandon their victims. “For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away.”

And she’s right – that’s exactly what they were. It’s hard enough for justice to be served when the perpetrator is an average person off the street, but when they’re a white, educated, extravagantly wealthy and universally adored celebrity, they’re untouchable. And frankly, we’d rather not try to touch them anyway. When we give Woody Allen an Oscar, what we’re really saying is “your creative endeavors make you worth more than a seven-year-old child.” We pat him on the back and tell him he matters, while we kick her into the shadows and tell her that she doesn’t.

And when that child emerges from the shadows 21 years later, we’re going to wonder what her angle is. There’s a statute of limitations on child abuse cases, so Allen can’t face charges. Farrow has married and, it would seem, moved on.  In other words, this seems to be the part where the “lying bitch” decides to reintroduce old rumors just to cash in on some of the attention surrounding our American film icon.

But that argument, which is the one that Allen makes in his response to Farrow’s letter (albeit slightly modified; for him, the criminal mastermind behind this smear campaign is his ex-wife Mia Farrow) has never made much sense to me. Why would a well-adjusted, 28-year-old woman want to step into the spotlight and fabricate a tale of childhood sexual abuse when we know from what we’ve seen over and over again that she will either be ignored or crucified? Why do we keep insisting that women who speak out against famous men are manipulative, power-hungry, or insane when all they’re really doing is throwing themselves to the wolves?

Woody Allen is a child molester. Picking and choose who receives consequences for their actions is the modus operandi of our justice system. And our reluctance to hear those ugly words – from Dylan, from anyone –  is derived from the discomfort of seeing our hypocrisy laid bare.

How many Oscars does a child molester have to win before we’re willing to become complicit in his crimes?


Hannah Engler
University of Michigan
hmengler@umich.edu

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