We at CTC did not watch Blue Jasmine (the movie). A movie from Woody Allen of course generated interest, after all the man is obsessed with therapy and psychoanalysis! Movies like: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Love and Death, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask (to name but a few), are classics, so naturally Blue Jasmine piqued our interest. Yet something stopped us from watching it: the November 2013 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, featuring an article by special correspondent Maureen Orth, revisiting the sexual abuse story she initially reported about twenty years ago, featuring Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and their adopted child – Dylan Farrow – stopped us from watching Blue Jasmine. The story also highlighted how the personal will always be political and how by choosing to boycott Woody Allen’s latest movie for us, is a small sign of solidarity with his step-daughter in particular, and all childhood sexual abuse survivors in general.
Twenty years after Dylan Farrow’s (Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter) revelation of sexual abuse, suffered at the hands of Woody Allen, was dismissed by authorities, Dylan shares the story of her abuse, in her own words. For those of us who know, study and work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the tragic events surrounding Dylan’s history is not surprising. Meaning, we are not surprised that Allen was never charged, that the authorities did not feel that Dylan had a case, or that the world was not willing to believe a 7 year old over a famous, rich director. The fact that we are not surprised reflects the world we live in, the problems and difficulty sexual abuse survivors encounter when trying to tell their story, and the uneasiness our society faces when talking about this issue. It further showcases the interdependence of psychological trauma with issues such as race and class.
For the first time ever, the silent Dylan, who has changed her name (at one point to Malone and perhaps to a new name today in order to preserve her anonymity), speaks in Vanity Fair, on the record, about her memories regarding this incident. Dylan/Malone, now an adult, still has “crippling” fear and says, “I’m scared of him, his image.” She goes on to say “I have never been asked to testify. If I could talk to the seven-year-old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify.” According to Dylan/ Malone, “there’s a lot I don’t remember, but what happened in the attic I remember. I remember what I was wearing and what I wasn’t wearing.” She goes on: “the things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn’t want to do what my elder told me to do.” The attic, she says, pushed her over the edge. “I was cracking. I had to say something. I was seven. I was doing it because I was scared. I wanted it to stop.” Not unlike other survivors, she goes on to say that she believed “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.” Today, Malone, refuses to call Allen by name, and reports that she has not had any contact with him, although he has tried to contact her over the years.
Allen and Farrow separated in 1992, after Farrow discovered nude photographs that Allen had taken of Soon-Yi Previn (her other adopted daughter), who was around 19 years old then. Soon-Yi was adopted by Farrow and her then husband Andre Previn in 1978, when she was 8 years old. The couple divorced in 1979 and Farrow began dating Allen in 1980, when Soon-Yi was 10 years old. One year later, as Farrow’s relationship with Woody Allen progressed, two more children, Dylan and Moses, were adopted, this time by both Mia and Woody, and their biological son Satchel Ronan was born in 1987. During their relationship, Allen and Farrow made 13 films together. The couple never married or lived together, but famously had apartments on opposite sides of Central Park in Manhattan. It has been documented that Allen had contact with Mia’s children, and in fact they together adopted Dylan/Malone – therefore having proved to authorities that they are indeed fit to parent together. In fact, a New York Time article reported “.. not many fathers spend as much time with their children as Allen does. He is there before they wake up in the morning, he sees them during the day and he helps put them to bed at night.”
As with many perpetrators Allen seems to have a pattern when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. Allen engaged in a sexual relationship with his partner’s (Mia) daughter (Soon-Yi) when she was in her late teens; however he had known her since she was a young girl of ten. Questions about the nature of their relationship, how he treated her, whether or not he sexualized her and the other kids, are relevant to the story and indicate how Dylan/Malone’s allegation of sexual abuse does not exist in a vacuum, but rather within a context and pattern of a potential perpetrator. The fact that Farrow reports that at the time when Allen adopted Dylan/Malone he started receiving therapy for his “inappropriate behavior” towards her, only further complicates this story, not only about Allen but also about how much did Farrow ignore in order to keep her relationship with him.
Once Allen and Farrow separated, a custody battle over their three children began. During that time, Mia spoke about the fact that she believed that Allen had sexually molested their adopted daughter Dylan/Malone. The judge eventually found that the sex abuse charges were inconclusive, however Farrow won custody of their children. Allen was denied visitation rights with Dylan/Malone and could see the other children only under supervision. Moses, their other adopted child, who was then 14, chose not to see Allen.
In 1991, when the relationship with Soon-Yi Previn began, Allen was 56 and Previn around 19, many asked whether this relationship was “healthy” and whether it constitutes sexual abuse. We could also ask how does this relationship link with issues of race and class? If Allen came from a low income family, and was a man of color, would we even have given him the benefit of the doubt that so many tried to give Allen? If Soon-Yi was a wealthy white woman would we be more upset about their sexual relationship? Lastly, if both Woody and Soon-Yi were not a well-to-do famous couple, could they have adopted other children, given the documented allegations of abuse by Allen?
In 1991, same time Allen and Farrow separated, Mia Farrow taped her young daughter Malone/Dylan saying that Woody Allen touched her inappropriately, but the case failed to make it to trial. Having worked with survivors of incest, it is not uncommon for one parent to want to tape a child’s testimony. However, in most cases, it is frowned upon by legal experts. In March 1993 New York Times reported how a team of child-abuse investigators at Yale-New Haven Hospital cleared Woody Allen of Mia Farrow’s assertion that he sexually molested their 7-year-old daughter. The findings presented to Allen and Farrow at the hospital after a seven-month inquiry, were not made public. The article goes on to say that the investigators found that the child, Dylan O. Farrow “had not been molested by anyone and concluded that a videotape that had been the centerpiece of the accusation was a result of either the child’s imagination or someone else’s manipulation. At the time, Allen made a statement “I’m just breaking even,” he said. “I never did anything. I would never molest a child.” Farrow made one too: “I will always stand by my children.” In September 1993, Connecticut State Attorney Frank Maco announced that, while he had “probable cause” to prosecute Allen on charges of sexual molestation of Dylan, he dropped the case in order to spare Dylan the trauma of appearing in court.
The Yale hospital team, consisting of a pediatrician specializing in child sexual abuse, a nurse and two social workers, repeatedly interviewed Mr. Allen, Ms. Farrow, Dylan/Malone, the child’s psychologist, household workers and others and reviewed the videotape. The lack of evidence is a good example of why childhood sexual abuse is so difficult to report. Children in particular make for unreliable witnesses. Survivors of trauma in general, do not make good witnesses either, because they often suffer from Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience. PTSD sufferers re-experience the traumatic event or events in some way, tend to avoid places, people, or other things that remind them of the event (avoidance), and are exquisitely sensitive to normal life experiences (hyper arousal). They may forget tragic memories, as a way to protect themselves against the pain, therefore making them unreliable witnesses. Another layer to this story: the Yale team used psychologists on Allen’s payroll to make mental health conclusions. Perhaps an indication that money can indeed buy innocence.
Allen’s inability to publicly talk about childhood sexual abuse and to open a dialogue about relationships and sexual abuse is diagnostic. Culturally. Personally. If he were to acknowledge being a perpetrator one can only imagine the shockwave, but more importantly the potential to create national and international conversations about childhood sexual abuse. Instead of secrecy and shame, Allen could talk about transparency and healing. By owning up to his mistakes, he could ask for forgiveness and help. With the resources he has available financially he could not only help himself understand his wrongdoings, but also encourage others to get help. Even if Allen is somehow innocent, there is little doubt that he struggles with issues regarding sexuality and children. Talking about his struggles would open up further dialogues in a culture that struggles with healthy sexuality. Further his admission might also provide some relief for Dylan/Malone and for all childhood abuse survivors who have been silenced, as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
Allen’s denial of these allegations are hurtful not only to Dylan/Malone, Soon-Yi and Mia Farrow, but to all of us fighting to end childhood sexual abuse. And although we cannot force him to get help, we can encourage him by publicly speak against childhood sexual abuse, and standing alongside Dylan/Malone and other survivors. Believing children who report abuse, educating parents and encouraging perpetrators to get help is part to the healing process. Allen’s admission would generate an amazing conversation. But, when those perpetrators refuse the help, as in the case of Allen, then standing with the survivors against the aggressors is the only way to be. Next time you want to see movie, skip Woody Allen’s latest altogether– for Dylan/Malone’s sake, for every child’s sake!