Sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen were made first in 1992 by his daughter Dylan. They’ve resurfaced since Allen was honored at the Golden Globes, culminating with an open letter last week from Dylan herself.
Allen stands legally innocent of any crime. The question in raising the issue is whether he’s acted so dishonorably as to be morally disqualified for an honor like the Cecil B. DeMille. I don’t know what if any character component is relevant to the award; personally, I long ago abandoned the idea that talent or even hard work at a particular pursuit necessarily have much to do with character and honorability in any other sense.
What I would suggest, after prosecuting, evaluating and consulting on child sexual abuse cases for over 15 years, is to largely disregard a few of the more popular considerations currently being touted as reasons Allen should be exonerated and Dylan (or Mia Farrow) either blamed or pitied. While nothing can be debated now that will ever settle things factually, there are a few “points” being touted that simply merit far less consideration than they’re being given:
1. No physical evidence “proving” the case. Anyone with a cursory understanding of both the typical nature of child sex abuse and pediatric anatomy knows that child cases almost never yield compelling physical evidence, even when reports are immediate. Very few abusers seek to inflict injury and know that doing so will likely interrupt the grooming process and trigger a report. Further, the genital area is blood-rich and heals very quickly even if tissue is damaged. Dylan reported nothing to my knowledge likely to yield physical evidence.
2. The allegations arising in the context of a custody dispute. Many have bought into the pernicious myth that children are easily and often coached to fabricate allegations of sexual abuse, usually by their mother against a targeted male figure. This is a particularly attractive idea against Mia Farrow, whose perceived bitterness at Allen’s actions with Soon-Yi Previn fuel the myth. In fact, sex abuse allegations made during custody disputes have about the same very low rate of false reporting as in any other case. Further, the risk of suggestibility drops off sharply after around the age of 5, two years before Dylan reported.
3. The Yale-New Haven Hospital report. A team of investigators, in the still early days of modern child sexual abuse investigation, appear to have questionably investigated and then questionably concluded that Dylan had not been abused. Aside from other very troubling aspects of this investigation that observers have raised, that particular conclusion was neither theirs to reach nor accepted practice with the information they appear to have had.
4. Most of what Robert Weide says in his 1/27 Daily Beast piece on the subject. Weide apparently knows Allen personally (and his pro-Woody bias is clear) but he knows almost nothing about sexual abuse dynamics or what is reliable in terms of indicators. What we believe we know about friends or colleagues is simply not relevant, most of the time, to what they might be capable of, period.
5. Evidence that Dylan suffered with mental health issues, either as a child or since. Nothing indicates that mental illness- certainly the kind she appears to have faced- is likely to cause delusions of abuse or an inclination to lie about being abused. Further, individuals who suffer sexual abuse often develop mental illness subsequently. And, if the condition was pre-existing, it tends to make sufferers tragically logical choices for abusers who know they won’t be believed.
As for what’s worth considering?
Dylan’s account. It’s not dispositive either, although it could be sufficient in a criminal court. The kind of sensory detail she gives even now, and the surrounding details of other acts she remembers very clearly, are exactly the kind of indicators that have helped win rightful convictions in child abuse cases as we’ve improved in investigating it over the last 25 years. Those memories, in a competent investigation and prosecution, can also yield powerful corroborative evidence.
I love Allen’s work and have no desire to demonize him. But I cannot in good conscience deny the plausibility- at least from where I stand- of Dylan’s accusations. It’s sad. But as Allen himself often showed us, so is life.