victim-blaming

Dylan Farrow Waited a Long Time to Be Heard

[Originally published as a Huffington Post blog piece in April 2014.]

When the newest issue of New York Magazine arrived in my mailbox last week, it didn’t take long for me to flip to the back page and peruse the “Approval Matrix,” their weekly ranking of timely facts and intriguing news tidbits. I usually find it a fun read, but not this time. In the quadrant, which assigned this high-profile story the status of “despicable,” was a photograph of Woody Allen holding a young Dylan Farrow and the words: “The crosscurrents of accusations from the Farrow-Allen households.”

I did a double take to make sure I read this right, appalled that the magazine was equating Dylan’s stated memories of sexual abuse by her adopted father with his dismissals of her statements as “ludicrous,” as well as his characterization of Mia Farrow as a vengeful, spurned wife who planted Dylan’s memories and lied to the court — none of which seem to be supported by the official records, the timeline of events, nor the opinions of objective players in the case.

I am truly disappointed that New York Magazine chose to publicly slam Dylan Farrow for telling her story. There is no convincing reason to believe that she is lying; therefore, she deserves the benefit of the doubt. Looking carefully at the facts, including the reporting of the highly regarded and credible Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair, it is actually Woody Allen’s behavior that appears suspicious, if not sinister.

Meanwhile, Dylan Farrow has every right to speak up about the man who allegedly violated her trust and her body when she was a small child, as well as the personal hurt she feels when witnessing the hero worship of her father among his colleagues in Hollywood. This veneration of the man behind the work simply fails to factor in his dubious past, an all too common phenomenon in the entertainment world. Even if we reserve judgment on the sexual abuse allegations, let’s not overlook the fact that Woody Allen makes no apologies for his sexual relationship with a then 20-year-old Sun Yi Previn.

Marrying a woman 35 years his junior and barely out of adolescence is deserving of our collective raised eyebrows at the very least, as well as consideration of its relevance to his daughter’s claims.

This story gets a lot of attention, at least in part because it is about celebrities. But we must not lose sight of the fact that this subject matter is vitally important. Sexual abuse is a frighteningly pervasive and destructive problem. It impacts far too many people, and thrives in darkness and silence. Our children are vulnerable unless we are aware of this danger and become diligent about their protection (and sometimes, sadly, even then). Bringing incidents out in the open and naming perpetrators is the only way to prevent sexual abuse from proliferating unchecked. As responsible, caring citizens and guardians of our youth, we must err on the side of caution when making judgments about whom to trust. The emotional well-being of our culture depends on it.

As a social worker and someone who has been personally impacted by this issue, I know that coming forward is an essential aspect of the healing process. In order to achieve true mental health, survivors work to understand that the burden of shame, which infects the lives of victims and causes damaging effects, belongs solely to the perpetrators of abuse. Speaking up is an important step for survivors, but one that also creates vulnerability.

When survivors summon the courage to come forward and tell their stories, we owe it to them and ourselves to pay attention. Not every claim will be true and it is only right that we obtain the available information before making up our minds. But with so much to lose — including counter-accusations, widespread criticism and the hurtful non-reactions of others that Dylan describes (all of which are surprisingly common) — those who speak up deserve to be heard and respected. When survivors are doubted and attacked, the evil of sexual abuse is given quarter and its danger is increased.

Unfortunately, brave young women like Dylan make easy targets. She stands up against a man with a lifetime of professional accolades, wealth and fame. Having grown up watching Annie Hall, I know firsthand how Woody Allen’s movies hold a place in the heart and personal histories of so many, making him a darling in America and abroad. When we entertain the veracity of Dylan’s claims, it is difficult to accept the stain on the memories we have attached to the man and his movies.

But it’s nothing compared to the pain that I believe Dylan Farrow endured and bravely worked to heal from. I support not just Dylan, but all survivors who face the truth about sexual abuse and the insidious damage it inflicts on the psyche, who stand up to the twisted power inflicted by abusers and help shine a light on this issue.

Woody Allen’s behavior may truly be “despicable.” But Dylan Farrow deserves to be in New York Magazine‘s “brilliant” category for her courage, as well as the comfort and strength her words give to so many. I stand behind Dylan and I call on others to do the same, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter. We can only make headway against the epidemic of sexual abuse when outspoken survivors are accorded the respect they deserve — and like Dylan Farrow, refuse to be silenced.

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Reasons Family Members Side with Sexual Abusers

As seen in PsychCentral

Living with the emotional effects of sexual abuse is painful enough. Unfortunately, many survivors open up about their abuse only to find that their family members’ reactions toward them are just as painful — if not more so — than the original trauma. It may shock some people to learn that family members often choose to side with sexual abuse perpetrators and against their victims, especially if the abuse was committed within the family.

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A Survivor’s Decision to Cut Ties with Family (As seen in Trigger Points Anthology online)

I have come a long way. From the fractured child who was silenced when I tried to speak up about my abuse to the whole and healthy woman I am now. I rose from confusion and pain and faced what I knew to be true. But like many other abuse survivors, I paid a painful price with regard to my family of origin. I tell my story not just because it helps me heal, but to help other survivors who recognize my struggles in their own lives – in the hopes that they will feel less alone.

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Holding My Head High

If you are a survivor of abuse, an injustice was perpetrated on you. You did not deserve it, you did not contribute to it, and someone should have protected you. Not only are you justified in addressing your abuse, but it’s also the right thing to do for yourself – and the world. But…for many, your family members tell you, in words and actions, the opposite of these truths. People in your family don’t believe you, blame you, still fail to protect you, and/or want you to be quiet about the traumatic past that you’re working so hard to overcome. This dilemma is the reason I have begun to write my story: I have been living with hurtful family responses for over two decades.

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She Asked Me Why

There is a survivor I know. Just a little, but enough to understand that she is sensitive, courageous and outspoken about what she has been through – and what she is still going through. Her candor is rare and powerful, and so is she. I’ll call this person Audrey – a name that means “noble strength.” Audrey was sexually abused as a child. Like so many of us, her innocence was stolen and her sense of self was shaken by the twisted actions of a person she should have been able to trust.

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The Second Wound: Healing from Sexual Abuse was Just the Beginning

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I will always have deep and lasting scars. But underneath, my wounds are healing. After decades of hard work in psychotherapy, a solid support system, and the unconditional love of my husband and children, I feel whole. I am okay. Better than that, I have created a life that fulfills and sustains me and brings many joys. There is more to my story though, and this part does not have a happy ending. It’s about my family of origin. For two decades, I tried to maintain relationships with family members while still remaining loyal to myself and honoring the truth about the abuse. Sadly, I have found this to be an impossible goal. Throughout this long struggle, I have felt ignored, shamed, blamed, ostracized and – ultimately, utterly betrayed.

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