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Down There: Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow and Me

The public debate surrounding Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen has kept me up nights. I’ve been immobilized by sadness, anger, and shame.

For 40 years I’ve been terrified to write about this, and 40 years is a long time to be terrified. But now, maybe it’s been long enough. Both my parents are dead now. And it’s painfully obvious that the other people who might care about my talking about it do not care at all about me. It’s time to speak up for all the Dylan Farrows in the world. And for myself.

As an adult, I have told close friends, and I once wrote a somewhat oblique piece about it for BUST. But when I was a child, no one knew. Just me, my parents, and a few other adults. What struck me then, and what strikes me now (and the verb still feels literal to me), is how alone I was. Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything.

Back then, it wasn’t “a thing.” There were no celebrity scandals or massive priest defrockings, no “Tonight, on a very special episode…”. Back then, there was no Law & Order: SVU, there was only me. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. Now this thing they call sexual abuse is everywhere. It’s in books, movies, TV shows – hell, even Arnold and Dudley got molested on the unfortuitously titled series, Diff’rent Strokes. But I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s, and none of the Brady girls were penetrated by household objects, Laurie Partridge’s legs weren’t burned and pried apart, and despite the now-ominous title, neither Buffy nor Jody was ever groped by Mr. French on Family Affair.

I didn’t know it was “sexual”; I didn’t know it was “abuse.” I only knew that I was weird and precocious and adopted and irritating and that all those qualities — all of that monstrous me-ness –made it happen. I have often wondered if I would have felt less alone, less freakish, less to blame, less ashamed and unlovable had I known I wasn’t the only girl in the world grown-ups wanted to wound and defile.

That’s why I feel like I have to stop being ashamed and speak out on behalf of Ms. Farrow and the multitudes of kids who are messed with by adults they were supposed to trust. It’s time everyone started listening to children. It’s time people listened to me.

I was always the good girl. An A student, I sat quietly with my hands folded on my desk. I called grownups “Ma’am” and “Sir.” I played quietly by myself. I read books, I practiced my penmanship. I did my homework, I looked both ways, I believed in God. I lived in terror of disappointing anyone. I was adopted, and if we were at the shopping mall I’d desperately distract my parents’ attention so they wouldn’t notice the pretty little blonde girl over there. I was afraid they’d wish they had her instead of me.

When it all started, all the time it was going on, I thought it was my fault. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to know how truly horrible I was. You know, “If you think she’s a rotten little mess now, just you hear about the things she makes grownups do.” It was also made very clear to me that it was a secret. A really big secret. Not like regular secrets, like what you’re getting for Christmas, or how you ate the last brownie, but a secret of almost supernatural proportions in its enormity. So I was the good girl; I didn’t tell. Ever. My mother knew about it. When I got older I told my father. I assumed he mentioned it to my stepmother. No one ever spoke to me about it. Ever.

It’s been decades, and I still have scars. Worse than the physical scarring is the persistence of fear and loneliness. The feeling of being less than, abandoned, uncared for. People you thought wouldn’t hurt you did. People you thought would protect you didn’t. Like a modern-day Young Goodman Brown, my ability to trust or ever feel truly safe had been torn from me forever.

Today, every now and then something I see or hear will ferociously catapult me right back to that scared, scarred, shell-shocked little girl. From time to time, I have nightmares, the kind that haunt you the rest of the day. Forty years later, and I can’t entirely shake off that self-loathing, unappealing little girl wobbling through life.

The same vehement presumption of innocence you champion on behalf of Mr. Allen must also be as ardently applied to Dylan Farrow.

Theoretically, I guess we will never know with absolute certainty what happened between Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow. But there is an awful lot of evidence to support Ms. Farrow, and very little to support the idea that the woman is lying, the girl was coached, and that Mia Farrow orchestrated everything based on jealous hysteria. I won’t argue she wasn’t bitter; after all, this is a man who had been taking nude photos and inappropriately (to say the least) pursuing her young daughter – whom he’d known since she was a little girl. (See her cameo in Hannah and Her Sisters.) Dylan is a twenty-eight-year-old grown woman who knows what happened to her. She has told us again and again she was not coached, that her mother repeatedly told her as girl that if she were lying she should say so and no one would be mad at her. She has absolutely no reason to lie. There are many people who witnessed some of Mr. Allen’s improper behavior concerning young Dylan.

If people feel uncomfortable accusing the famous director of pedophilia when they can’t be certain of what happened, this I understand. Then stay mum. But those who are leaping to Woody Allen’s defense and, directly or by implication, accusing Farrow of lying and vindictive defamation, need to stop. The same vehement presumption of innocence you champion on behalf of Mr. Allen must also be as ardently applied to Dylan Farrow.

As an adult, the reproach I encountered whenever I tenderly tendered the topic felt like being abused all over again. I was either admonished for remembering, or even more hurtful, my parent had forgotten all about it (or claimed to). It felt like being discarded all over again, once more abandoned.

Something in Dylan’s open letter particularly struck a chord:

“You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”

It hurt to feel like no one cared. All these years later, it still hurts, perhaps worse. The question never fades — How could you forget about it? Why don’t you care? Why wasn’t I worthy of your care and concern? Why didn’t you love me?

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

So I am writing this to ask those who feel so strongly about defending Woody Allen to think about what they’re saying to the little, and us not-so-little, girls out there. I’m asking those who feel so strongly about protecting the possibly innocent Woody Allen that they consider standing by the indisputable innocence of children.

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