Dylan Farrow’s story: The bad message Hollywood has sent to victims

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When Woody Allen received a Golden Globe award for lifetime achievement a few weeks ago, there was a lively debate about whether it was appropriate to honor a man who is an artistic giant but also was accused years ago of child molestation.

Mr. Allen’s defenders correctly note that he denies the allegations, has never been convicted and should be presumed innocent. People weighed in on all sides, but one person who hasn’t been heard out is Dylan Farrow, 28, the writer and artist whom Mr. Allen was accused of molesting.

Dylan, Mr. Allen’s adopted daughter who is now married and living in Florida under a different name, tells me that she has been traumatized for more than two decades by what took place; last year, she was belatedly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She says that when she heard of the Golden Globe award being given to Mr. Allen, she curled up in a ball on her bed, crying hysterically.

With everyone else commenting, she decided to weigh in as well. (Full disclosure: I am a friend of her mother, Mia, and brother Ronan, and that’s how Dylan got in touch with me.) She has written a letter that I’m posting in full on my blog, nytimes.com/​onthe ground. I reached out to Mr. Allen several days ago, and he declined to comment on the record.

Dylan writes:

“That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.

“That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face — on a poster, on a T-shirt, on television — I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.”

A firestorm erupted in 1992 over allegations described as “inappropriate touching” — in fact, what Dylan recounts is far worse, a sexual assault. She was 7 years old.

There were charges and countercharges. A panel of psychiatrists sided with Mr. Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother. A Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence for a criminal case against Mr. Allen but that he was dropping criminal proceedings to spare Dylan.

Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?

Yet the Golden Globes sided with Mr. Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering. That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims.

“I know it’s ‘he said, she said,’” Dylan told me. “But, to me, it’s black and white, because I was there.”

I asked her why she’s speaking out now. She said she wanted to set the record straight and give courage to victims: “I was thinking, if I don’t speak out, I’ll regret it on my death bed.”

These are extremely tough issues, and certainty isn’t available. But hundreds of thousands of boys and girls are abused each year, and they deserve support and sensitivity. When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?

But I want to leave you with a sense of Dylan’s resolve. She declares:

“This time, I refuse to fall apart. 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. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me — to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories — have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.

“Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.

“But others are still scared, vulnerable and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.”

That’s something for all of us, even those who aren’t stars, to reflect on.

Nicholas D. Kristof is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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