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Woody Allen: What Can Be Learned

FMSF News Alert - February 19, 2014

On February 1, Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column published extensive comments from a recent letter by Dylan Farrow in which she revived claims that her adopted father, Woody Allen, had abused her 22 years ago when she was seven. This is not a recovered memory case. Because it has received so much publicity, however, we can look at reactions to the charges as an indicator of attitudes to child sexual abuse accusations in general. [1] Kristof expressed no doubt that Dylan’s accusations were other than the truth.

On February 7, the New York Times published a response to the accusations by Woody Allen who maintained his innocence and cited the findings of investigators at the time.[2]

What do we actually know from this "he said - she said"? Nothing more than was known in 1992 during the highly publicized divorce and custody battle of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.

From the responses to articles, we can, however, see that for a sizable percent of the population, an accusation of sexual abuse is still enough to assume it is true. In a February 12 Time article, writer Cathy Young argues that the feminist camp still urges people to "believe the survivor" and condemn the accused. [3] She presents research from many studies to argue that this approach is wrong. It is our understanding that rational people revise their opinions and beliefs in response to new information. This group has apparently not changed in 22 years.

Compared to 1992, the climate seems vastly different to us. In 1992, virtually everyone assumed that an accusation of abuse was true. By 2014, there are many articles and comments that are measured and reasonable. For example:

"Let me state for the record, again, that I have absolutely no idea whether Allen is guilty or innocent. But I do believe in America’s system of due process, and the state of being innocent until proven guilty." [4]

and

"It’s hard to imagine a more odious crime than child molestation. It’s hard also to imagine the mortification of those falsely accused of it." [5]

Back in 1992, before the wonder of the Internet and Web, reading responses to articles took weeks as people wrote "Letters to the Editor" of newspapers, but now after almost any article one can immediately scan readers’ responses to it. A real study would define the parameters of the material to be compared and we are only "eyeballing" articles that have come across our desk. But from this desk, it appears that the weight has moved clearly in the direction of a willingness to accept that an accusation could be either right or wrong and that the only way to tell is with external corroboration.

The Woody Allen case is painful example of how the detritus of sex abuse accusations linger, harboring anger and hurt. Of all the articles that we have read in the past few weeks, the one that stands out is by Dorothy Rabinowitz, Editorial Board member of the Wall Street Journal: On Woody Allen and Echoes of the Past. [6] Rabinowitz places the Woody Allen accusations in the context of several decades of people who have been shown to have been falsely accused. She reminds us all of the dreadful results of false accusations.

Don’t miss this article at: online.wsj.com

Pamela and J. Bean

[1]. Farrow, D. (2014 February 1). An open letter from Dylan Farrow. (Column by Nicholas Kristof). Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from: kristof.blogs.nytimes.com

[2]. Allen, W. (2014, Feb 7). Woody Allen speaks out. Sunday Review, New York Times. Available at: www.nytimes.com

[3]. Young. C. (2014, Feb 12). Woody Allen, Feminism, and ‘Believing the Survivor,’ Time. Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from ideas.time.com on February 14, 2014.

[4]. Ostroy, A. (2014, Feb 11). "Is Woody Allen guilty or innocent of child sexual abuse?" Huffington Post. Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from www.huffingtonpost.com on February 14, 2014.

[5]. Cohen, R (2014, February 12). New York Times rushed to judgment. IndyStar. Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from: www.indystar.com

[6]. Rabinowitz, D. (2014, February 9). On Woody Allen and echoes of the past. Wall Street Journal. Opinion. Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from online.wsj.com