Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Investigative Look at The Woody Allen Case

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 Questions

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.


  1. I read Weide's piece, and will have to take it with a grain of salt. He's friendly with Allen so that makes him biased. That said, good article you've penned.

    1. There is bias on both sides. One side is pre-disposed to believing that Allen is a molester (mostly due to the Soon-Yi affair) and the other side is pre-disposed to believe that Mia Farrow coached Dylan into believing that she was molested in order to get back at an ex-boyfriend. And that side could be very much attached to their image of Allen as a troubled but brilliant filmmaker that they genuinely like.

  2. Thank you very much for putting down these thoughts. We at (an annual month-long sensitisation awareness by mostly Indian bloggers) have learnt through our personal experiences and through what we do just how difficult it is for a person to speak out about being abused and then for abuse to be proved.

  3. OK, I actually agree with you, but I'd like to get your take on this article. Does Allen even fit the profile?
    Thanks for your insight.

  4. Amen! As an ADULT, I was violently attacked by a guy when I dropped by his house in the mid 80's. He tried to sexually assault me, saying "Go ahead & scream, no one can hear you" but I broke free & got out. At the time, the police told me not to bother reporting it, it was my word against his despite the bruises. I was an adult & this is how the system treated that then. Imagine being a child. My attacker stalked me for a year (legal at that time) & later violently raped a friend. The system was not set up to protect victims then. Now it's barely adequate.

  5. Thank you for this well-informed post. For anyone who thinks lack of physical evidence is conclusive, consider Dylan's statement that Woody Allen put his thumb in her mouth. What would a physical exam show about that? Unless he were violent and willing to injure her there would not be any physical evidence that a doctor would see.

  6. As a child abuse specialist, don't you find it odd that Allen has never been accused of molestation/sexual assault outside of this one allegation? My observation is that child molesters are typically serial abusers and have multiple victims. This doesn't seem true in this case, if he is (in fact) an abuser.

    1. Not making g any accusations but Mr. Allen and 's. Oregon adopted two Asian girls, who are now fourteen and thirteen. One of the issues the court had was that Mr. Allen seduced 's. Oregon, separated here from her family and left her without a support system, outside of himself. Andre Oregon disowned her and she's estranged from her mother and siblings. She wasn't very mature when she started the affair with Mr. Allen, as she was the shirts and most quiet of the Previn children. So, honestly, we don't really know. I sincerely doubt Ms Previn has the ability to leave Mr. Allen. So, really, how would we know?

    2. Multiple cases? What do you call Soon-Yi? And now Allen has two more adopted daughters. Who speaks for them? It is not appropriate to have an intimate relationship with your girlfriend's daughter -- no matter where you live or how old she is. It's certainly not okay to excuse it because Soon-Yi was adopted. Saying she consented and was of age is just an excuse. Ever heard of Stockholm syndrome? Soon-Yi was 7 or 8 when Allen and Farrow started dating. After years of abuse, it's not unusual for the victim to support the abuser. You need only look a far as Jaycee Dugard or Shawn Hornbeck to know that abused children can be so traumatized as not to run or speak out when they have the chance. The firestorm of controversy and doubt levied at Dylan and Mia can't help but discourage other victims, if they exist, to come forward. But the fact that Allen's current relationship isn't being reviewed or that he was even allowed to adopt more girls to abuse, is atrocious.

      Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Who Speaks for the Children?

    3. Actually Soon-Yi was an adult when the affair started.

      And they had no relationship when she was a kid. Even Mia Farrow states that Soon-Yi barely liked him and rarely saw him.

      It's funny but whether or not people believe that Woody Allen molested a 7 year old girl hinges on whether they believe that Soon-Yi was a brainwashed semi-retarded girl that Allen took away from her family, or a mature adult who made her own decisions and was telling the truth about Mia Farrow being an abusive mother.

    4. I'm a Child Protection case worker in Florida and no one can answer that question of yours accurately because child abuse investigations are confidential.When someone reports child abuse to an authority (police) or child abuse hotlines, they can choose to not do anything about it and end your call or they can choose to create an investigation and refer it to a Child Protection Investigation Unit like the author works for. So, Woody Allen may have been accused multiple times and had a number of child abuse hotline calls but none were accepted for an investigation..... It probably sounds crazy but the author would definitely confirm this. Woody Allen might have had other victims he was a stranger to. He is a celebrity which means his access to children is endless.

  7. I want to thank you. When people are provided facts, all they seem to want to do is cover their ears and sing, "I can't hear you!" They present the Weide piece like it's gospel but, when the piece is rebutted, they will not listen. I wrote my own piece on it. Yes, it's passionate. I make no apologies for that. But my facts are solid and I have yet to have anyone dispute them. They would rather pick at my writing style or that I am not a professional (fill in the blank). As my blog says, I am an ordinary citizen and make no claims to being a professional writer. People do not understand child abuse and I truly believe what we are seeing from the Woody Allen "supporters" is not so much fans of Woody Allen's.....most people weighing in probably have never even seen one of his movies and are more than likely to make fun of him......but just good old-fashioned misogyny. I also believe that if the victim had been RONAN and not Dylan, everyone would be singing a much different tune. But I do want to thank you for writing a great piece from a professional perspective.

  8. all very good information, but I take issue with "victims never really get over it". my experience, based on speaking with many victims, is that many if not most of them do. Those are the ones who aren't talking about it perhaps?

    1. I don't know what victims you've been speaking to. I was not sexually abused but physically and psychologically abused in a private school from the age of five until nine. I am now forty-five. Just because we aren't sobbing messes doesn't mean that we "got over it". It just means we learned to cope. I usually keep a very tight rein on my emotions (since one of my abuser' s favorite things to do was to see how long it could take her to get me to cry. She thought it was hilarious when I hyperventilating!) This case really made it hard because I know what it feels like to be small, powerless, scared and for people not to believe you. In the mid-seventies, child abuse "didn't happen." And for a kid like me, it colored my whole life. I have severe trust issues. I have trouble with crying. I can be overprotective of my own children. I think that victims are just telling you what you want to hear or just aren't good with telling people. Trust me, in a face to face conversation, you'd never get this much information out of me. It's hard just typing it because the feelings can get overwhelming. So, I wouldn't dismiss victims feelings so easily.

    2. Oh god. Hugs you. I just think people who treat anyone, but especially kids, like this are mentally ill. So sorry you wound up in the line of fire xxx

  9. Dear Pat. You rock. Hurray that people like you do the job you do and that you're there to protect women and children from these monsters. I would hug you right now if I could. And thank you for adding your voice of experience to this mess. MWAH! Jen xx

  10. Hi Pat,

    This is honestly the most balanced, objective post that I have read on the matter. I actually blogged about the dearth of meaningful conversation about this, aside from the media scandal. It is truly unfortunate that the investigation was so compromised, that years and years on no one can be properly expunged from guilt or seen justice administered for a crime so heinous.