Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What The Woody Allen- Mia Farrow Case Illustrates about Investigating Sexual Abuse

This article could be triggering.

Over the last several days there have been many articles and arguments about the tweets made by Mia Farrow and her son Ronan regarding Woody Allen being honored at the Golden Globes.  The Farrows are convinced that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow.  Dylan made a statement when she was 19 that Allen molested her at the age of 7, she made similar statements when she was 7 and there was no real investigation.

There have been op-ed's about this matter written both in support of Allen and in defense of the Farrows.  Unlike The Daily Banter's Chez Pazienza, I've never been a huge fan of Allen, his writing or his movies. Unlike Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth I haven't had an extensive sit down with the Farrows.

What I can tell you is this situation is far too common.  Sure, the principals in this case are larger than life, but at is very most basic core, this story is played out time and time again in Child Protection. For every case that's founded by CPS, there are a dozen cases like Allen's.

The problems with the Allen case from an investigative standpoint are many and varied, from the statement by the victim, to taking the child to a doctor and not child abuse professionals, to the weird, neurotic behavior of both Farrow and Allen.

Any case against Allen was going nowhere fast, because the professionals involved didn't do things correctly.  The good news in the last 20 years, Child Protection Professionals nationwide have gotten a whole lot better at our jobs.

There has been a lot of talk about Dylan's statements as a 7 year old possibly being coached, and her memories as a 19 year old being false.  Those are certainly a possibility, but what I see when I read the account of Dylan's disclosure and the lawyers advice that she be  taken to a doctor, my first thought was "huge mistake".

A lot of comment has been made about Dylan pointing to her shoulder when asked about her private part by the doctor and later telling her mother that she was embarrassed to tell the doctor.  This absolutely consistent with hundreds of cases we've investigated.  Children have to be made to feel safe in a welcoming one on one interview, not the cold sterile impersonal environment of the doctor's office.

It's also not surprising that the next day they went back to the doctor and made a statement consistent with being molested.  This happens all the time. Children are afraid, embarrassed, confused. Also children generally don't want to get "in trouble" because they're sharing a secret.

The professionals around the country who conduct forensic interviews with child victims never and I mean never just ask what part the private part is.  We're trained to build rapport with the child, taking several minutes to get information about their home, their family, their school. Sometimes we draw face pictures.

After the child is more comfortable we might ask them why they are there to see us, if  the respond with something regarding body parts, we introduce a body chart and have them name body parts.  That way when they say "he touched my private" we can refer to the chart to ask what they mean.  Sidebar: Parents please teach your children the word vagina.  You have no idea how many names for vagina I've been told by children. From hoo-ha to pocketbook to monkey.  Also teach them the word penis, not winky, not pee pee, not dick, PENIS.

The other problem with proving that Allen did or didn't do something is quite frankly, Mia Farrow.  In the Vanity Fair article she was described as never wanting to make the allegations public, and her behavior showed a hesitance to go to authorities, instead telling a psychiatrist dealing with Allen.  Even in the early 90's this should have been completely handled by CPS and Police. People trained to investigate.

The fact that both adults Farrow and Allen are veritable baskets of neuroses also doesn't help the case.  Allen's affair and subsequent marriage to Soon-Yi Previn have devastated the Farrow family.  Allen's neurosis is the basis of his entire professional career.

Regarding Soon-Yi Previn, Allen stated that he didn't see Soon-Yi as his daughter. While that is technically true he was the predominant male figure for a significant portion of her childhood.  Her father figure.  Allen traded on these feelings and groomed her. While not technically a crime, since we don't know of any sexual contact between the two when she was a minor, it certainly is creepy.

Allen's behavior with Dylan as witnessed by several people, could certainly be construed as grooming at the very least, but we'll never know beyond a reasonable doubt that he molested Dylan. It's very possible that he did, but what happened with this case from the professionals was sadly wanting.  As to the Farrow's believing Dylan, I would expect no less.

So there it is, this case is a mess. Many child sexual abuse cases are a mess. The reasons this case is a mess aren't all that different than what we see on a daily basis.  Parents who despise each other, partial statements by a child that seem inconsistent, professionals who dropped the ball and failed to properly interview the child, all these things are a daily problem in Child Protection.

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