Author's Note: This Blog Post May Be Triggering
The subject of child abuse and in particular child sexual abuse, is not something that people like to talk about. Most people don't like to even think about it. Unfortunately it is real, it is happening right now, and frankly shouldn't be ignored.
This weekends open letter from Dylan Farrow to her father Woody Allen, and Hollywood in general, about the sexual abuse she suffered at his hand, set off a firestorm. It is frank, it is heartfelt and it is powerful. It may also be triggering for some people. If you haven't read it, I recommend you do so.
Since the post went up yesterday there has been an outpouring of support for Ms. Farrow and condemnation of Woody Allen. There have also been numerous supporters of Allen asking for more "proof". Twitter and Facebook quickly rent down the middle by those survivors and their supporters, for whom Dylan's accusations ring true, and those who either support Allen or want more evidence than just Farrow's word.
Filmmaker and author Bob Weide, wrote a piece in the Daily Beast outlining questions, that might exonerate Allen. The questions Wiede asks seem logical and objective. They also illustrate how little the average person knows about the disclosure, investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse.
As most of you know, I investigate child abuse for a living. I've been doing it for 20 years. I've done hundreds of sexual abuse cases with thousands of victims. I'm a certified forensic interviewer, advanced forensic interviewer and trainer of the forensic interview techniques. It's with this knowledge and training that I look at the Allen case.
A Botched Investigation
One of the first questions that people have had about the Allen case usually has something to do with Dylan's disclosure. In the original story in Vanity Fair in 1993 and in the follow up in November, Dylan's appeared to garbled and contradictory. She told the first doctor that she spoke to that Allen had touched her shoulder. The next day she disclosed a more descriptive account.
This often happens with the outcry of abuse. In the Allen case, Dylan should NEVER have been questioned by a doctor in a hospital room with her mom there. Unfortunately, it was 1993. Now children are interviewed in safe one on one settings, for the most part. Doctors know that if a parent brings a child in for possible sexual abuse, they are to take the minimum amount of information they need for an exam and let the professionals do the interview.
Weide makes quite a point that the Investigative Team of 3 doctors who conducted a 6 month investigation concluded that no sexual molestation happened. They claimed in part that Dylan was "emotionally disturbed child whose story became fixed in her head" or that she was coached or both. They outlined inconsistencies in Dylan's statement about being touched on the vaginal area.
The idea of a team of 3 doctors interviewing a frightened 7 year old child individually or as a group over 6 months is reprehensible. There's a reason we do one interview on tape. Asking Dylan to relive and retell the account of her abuse over and over again victimized her even further.
It's not shocking that she said first she wasn't touched, then she was, then she wasn't. Children who are repeatedly interviewed about the same incident often change an answer to please the person doing the interview. We see this in custody cases all the time. When the kids at mom's they say they hate dad, when they're at dad's vice versa.
It's not a giant leap to think that Dylan was confused and scared by these three adult men asking her questions about her private parts for SIX MONTHS. It's inconceivable to anyone who practices social work today. It's entirely possible that she was "emotionally" disturbed because of the way she was dealt with by people who should have known better.
Many people, including Weide point out that medical examinations were done and there was no evidence of trauma to the anus or the vagina. This doesn't rule out molestation. In fact it doesn't even rule out penetration. The vagina heals remarkably fast and any doctor who knows how to conduct a sexual abuse exam of a child will tell you that.
Charming and Sneaky
Weide also seems to think that the fact that some of the abuse happened during the time when Allen had to be on his "best behavior" on visits precludes the possibility that he abused Dylan. Again a common fallacy among those who don't know a whit about how abusers work.
Abusers are charming. Especially when they are grooming the child. Much of what Dylan described like getting under the covers with Allen, or Allen making her suck his thumb are mere precursors to abuse which could have followed.
In fact, the visits at the Farrow home would be the perfect time for Allen to abuse Dylan for the very reason that people think it was the worst possible time. Nobody would expect Allen to do that while he was under intense scrutiny after his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn became public.
Weide also casts doubt on Allen being able to do it in a house full of children and nannies. Again abusers are good at what they do, and sexual abusers are the best. Mikki Kendall, AKA @Karnythia a feminist, mother and author pointed out on Twitter, that only the sloppy or the stupid sexual abusers get caught.
Prosecution of child sexual abuse is notoriously tricky. It's no surprise that there was no criminal charge in the Allen case. The prosecutor at the time, said he had probable cause to believe Dylan. People wonder why charges weren't pressed. A valid question with no easy answer.
The first problem with prosecution is almost every child sex abuse case is the child's word against the adults. I mentioned forensic interviewing earlier. We interview children in this manner to get a statement that is as credible as possible. The video of the interview is also a good tool to use to try to get a confession, and if there are charges filed, its an excellent tool for a judge and jury to see.
Once you get past the hurdle of the child's credibility, there are structural concerns with the criminal justice system that make things difficult. Some cases can linger for a year or two until they come to trial. In that time, the victim and the victim's family may have decided that court may be too overwhelming. Even in relatively quick cases, the family is hesitant.
Can you imagine the circus if Dylan Farrow had to testify against Woody Allen? Not only would she be dragged by a defense attorney, but Mia Farrow's life and previous history would also be fair game. Weide mentioned Mia Farrow's previous affairs, imagine what an attorney that Woody Allen could afford would have done.
Another common misconception is that if there is no prosecution, there is no guilt. Every state has some form of Child Protective Services. All of them have a name for reports of child abuse that are FOUNDED. In Illinois, we use the term Indicated. In other states they use Confirmed. The level of evidence in these founded reports is usually "reasonable person" which basically means that a reasonable person would conclude that abuse or neglect occurred.
A friend on Twitter mentioned that he would like to believe that Allen is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately for the overwhelming majority of these cases there is no court. There is only the child welfare system and the findings of the professionals. Those cases are never made public due to confidentiality, but they are no less important than cases that go to court.
A Final Thought
Dylan Farrow's statement this weekend opened up a lot of wounds. So many victims have their victimization dismissed by everyone from family to authorities, its not surprising there were a lot of angry outbursts. Victims never really get over it no matter that other's would like them too.
People seem willing to give Woody Allen the benefit of the doubt, and that is certainly their right. Just keep in mind the raw feelings of a lot of people. Keep in mind that there are an awful lot of people like Dylan Farrow, living with a horrible past and feeling like nobody believes them.
We've come a long way in the way we investigate and prosecute child sexual abuse. If the Woody Allen case was investigated today, the outcome may have been completely different. Given what we know, Dylan Farrow may have gotten justice.