Never mind that it's Woody Allen—to kids who've been through this, the story's all too familiar.
If you’re having doubts about the allegations that Dylan Farrow has made against Woody Allen—she has emphatically and publicly said that Allen sexually abused her when she was 7 years old—forget who they are for a second and consider the circumstances.
Allen claims that his ex-wife, Mia Farrow, brainwashed Dylan and made her believe that Allen had sexually abused her in order to get revenge after a bitter breakup.
He says he’s innocent because he was never convicted of a crime, and he cites seemingly plausible evidence, most notably a lie detector test that he commissioned, to defend himself.
Many journalists have joined Dylan Farrow in pointing out the gaping holes in Allen’s testimony—Maureen Orth’s analysis for Vanity Fair is damning, to say the least—but there’s one thing that hits home for me more than anything else: Allen has stopped commenting publicly after his New York Times piece, but Farrow’s voice is louder than ever.
Only two people know what really happened—Allen and Dylan Farrow—but Farrow’s story seems more credible each day. In some ways, it is eerily similar to my story. In other ways, it’s not. But the details are far less important than the common thread that runs through child sexual abuse cases.
By now, it should be clear that our most revered football coaches and screenwriters and spiritual leaders are capable of molesting children. So is the quiet, mild-mannered guy who lives down the street from you.
It’s not who they are that matters. It’s their access to vulnerable children. It’s the failure of otherwise reasonable adults to see through the smokescreen.
It Could Be Anyone
My stepfather was a charming guy. You probably would have liked him. He was smart and funny and a hell of an athlete. He sold stocks and coached our sports teams. He always had money.
But Danny was also an alcoholic and a pathological liar. Sometimes he dropped his guard and revealed the darkest parts of himself at family parties. He got a little pushy when he was drunk, and he’d occasionally snap.
Danny didn’t hit me often, and he rarely left a mark. He was more a psychological torture kind of guy, and I was his favorite target. This was an open secret in our home. Yet despite his habit of walking around the house naked and exposing himself—despite the many times he snuck behind us and checked our “oil” when we were bent over—my family didn’t believe me when I said he’d molested me.
My father did, but he was easy enough to discredit.
Danny was a well-respected man who had swooped in to save a struggling family. My father was a recovering alcoholic who would do anything to get his children back—even coach his son to fabricate allegations of sexual abuse. At least that’s how Danny’s defense went in the late ‘80s, when I first came forward.
Completely unprompted, I’d told my father in a convenience store parking lot that Danny had touched me in weird ways and made me feel uncomfortable. He asked me to show him where and I pointed to the seat of my pants. I had no concept of sexual abuse. I was 6 years old.
Still, I recanted when investigators from New Jersey’s child protective services office interviewed me at my school. It was all a misunderstanding, Danny had told them.
The state decided that the abuse allegation was unfounded because there was no physical evidence and there had been no witnesses.
So I pretended it had never happened. Five years passed.
When I was 11, my father checked me into a crisis center because I’d been sleeping with a knife under my pillow for days. My mom was going to let Danny back into the house. She’d kicked him out after he punched me in the chest and sent me to the hospital. I was afraid. At the hospital, repressed memories of the abuse started bubbling up.
Soon, child protective services opened a new investigation. Danny was arrested. He agreed to plead guilty to endangering the welfare of a child—a misdemeanor sex crime in the state of New Jersey.
Years later, when I confronted him as an adult, Danny refused to admit he’d molested me. He apologized for being “mean” and said he couldn’t meet me in person because his lawyer thought I might show up with a gun.
“I continue to do well for myself,” he informed me.
All is Quiet
It took me another five years after that confrontation to really work through the abuse. My family and close friends were aware of it, but most people were deeply uncomfortable discussing it with me. Many still are.
Thankfully, the national conversation about sexual abuse that Jerry Sandusky’s trial ignited has made it easier for survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and publicly tell their stories.
I suspect that’s why Dylan Farrow is dredging up her past for all of us to see. That’s why I did, and that’s why dozens of other survivors joined me in writing brutally honest essays about recovering from sexual abuse for The Survivors Project, a book of true, first-person stories that I curated and co-edited with my wife, Nina, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Weekly.