How can anyone know whether Woody Allen molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow more than 20 years ago, when she was 7, unless he says it’s so? There certainly is no proof in court. He was not prosecuted. There is no physical evidence. There is certainly no conviction. From a court’s perspective, there is no case. He must be presumed innocent.
Yet the claim of sexual assault survives. It will not go away unless Allen admits it’s true — which he hasn’t — or Farrow says it isn’t true — which she won’t. Whether this particular crime happened or not, the lack of resolution is a feature of sexual assault cases everywhere. Survivors of sexual assault rarely receive outside validation and verification that their terrifying experience actually happened. Because of the nature of the crime, “proof” is often unreachable, empowering perpetrators.
It’s important for people to recognize this dynamic of sexual assault — that the lack of proof is another weapon to wield against survivors — to better create an environment in which survivors can feel safe confiding in those they trust, to heal. The odds are someone in your life was sexually assaulted. If you talk about sex or sexual assault or victims in a judgmental way, you are likely adding to that person’s trauma.
Survivors of sexual assault may feel haunted knowing others view their case in shades of gray, not black and white. In Farrow’s instance, speculation was fueled by the fact that a Connecticut prosecutor, Frank Maco, said in 1993 that he wouldn’t charge Allen even though he believed there was probable cause. State police investigators decided not to pursue the case, in part to protect Farrow, who was then 8, from the added trauma of a trial.
Now, as an adult, Farrow has provided a testimony of sorts in a guest blog post with The New York Times. Just ahead of this year’s Oscar Awards, where 78-year-old Allen is nominated for best original screenplay for his drama “Blue Jasmine,” Farrow revives her claim publicly that Allen sexually assaulted her as a child. She describes other inappropriate acts as well, such as Allen putting his face in her naked lap.
Allen’s spokeswoman disputed the open letter, calling it “untrue and disgraceful.” And so the back-and-forth continues, with one person’s word pitted against another’s.
Finding Allen guilty in a court of law is no longer the point. Instead it appears to be about shifting the balance of power. By making the public doubt him, Farrow takes away some of Allen’s allure and power. Because a court can’t, she is trying him — and therefore herself — in a court of public opinion.
These allegations may be playing out in a national, highly publicized arena, but the same questions are also raised in small communities, outside the public eye, every day. As is fair, people everywhere get caught up in the details. Who said what and when? Who is more believable? All the while, the questioning — the doubt — is what gives the crime of sexual assault its cruel power. Sexual assault can be debilitating not just because of the act itself but because, often for the world, it never happened. Courts can’t use pain as proof.
The world of “justice” and “proof” is far different than the world most survivors inhabit. Many suffer privately. For many, justice doesn’t come from seeing a perpetrator convicted but by proving their resilience.