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What to Make of the Woody Allen Case?

Some things to consider when looking at cases of alleged child abuse.

In case you have been on another planet in the last few weeks, you will have seen the flurry of articles, denunciations, and opinion pieces over allegations of “sexual abuse” made back in 1992 by Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen’s 7-year-old step-daughter. The torrent of social media comments and articles in major magazines, either pro Woody Allen or against him, escalated following the January 12, 2014, Golden Globes ceremony where Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

The facts of the case remain the same as they did in 1992, with Woody Allen denying any wrongdoing. However, that is not how Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow and Dylan Farrow see it, and they made it known – as is their right. Dylan Farrow even wrote an open letter in the New York Times detailing her years of sexual abuse by Woody Allen. These are very sobering accusations.

For those who want to delve deeper into the accusations, I have listed some of the articles here:

Newsweek – a synopsis of the controversy; Vanity Fair 1992; The Daily Beast; The New York Times Sunday Review; Woody Allen Speaks Out - NYT; An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow; The Daily Beast; and Vanity Fair.

The articles speak for themselves, and I am not going to try to summarize what has already been said. I don’t know if Woody Allen is guilty or if he is innocent from what has been written. What I do want to delve into is what has not been said or needs further examination based on the allegations and what has appeared in the media as commentary.

In sexual abuse cases, especially where children are involved, but there is lack of ample evidence, we must consider the following:

The first point to make is that children can lie and sometimes quite well. They can invent facts and circumstances and even change their stories over time – even when telling the truth. But there is one thing that children don’t know how to do, and that is that when they are sexually abused they don’t know the corresponding emotional, psychological, and physical (psychosomatic) behaviors that are consistent with abuse. They may be able to lie, but rarely if ever are they able to copy or mimic the behaviors and emotions that are associated with trauma. Things such as stuttering, anxiety, panic attacks, nervous tics, withdrawal, moodiness, quiescent behavior, depression, urinating in bed, repetitive behaviors, reluctance to be touched or bathed, and constipation (to name a very few), may present post sexual assault, and these are often lacking in those who lie. These behaviors show up because the trauma is real – not artifice – these psychological or physical artifacts were caused by the sexual assault or trauma, and they manifest as a form of PTSD.

Concurrent with this is the fact that usually the truthful child will manifest, even years later, a negative “limbic response” (for lack of a better term) to things associated with the assault, be it a location, a smell, the mention of the perpetrator’s name, seeing the perpetrator in public, or anything associated with that individual. These negative responses are a natural consequence of the assault, a reaction that stays with the child for decades. Traumatic events register in the part of the brain that helps us to remember, after just one try, not to touch a hot stove again, so they stay with us for a very long time on purpose – to protect us. Children cognitively don’t know the longitudinal effects of trauma but when they are truly victimized, these very honest reactions are clearly present. These are the honest reactions that Gavin De Becker spoke of in his illuminating book, The Gift of Fear (De Becker,1997, Dell Publishing.) From everything I have read, going back to the original allegations and the recent visceral reactions post award ceremony, it seems apparent Dylan Farrow continues to have these limbic reactions – these are her post traumatic event reactions.

The second issue that has not been discussed has to do with who sexually abuses children? What does it take to be a predator of children? We know that stepfathers and stepmothers are statistically more likely to sexually violate their stepchildren, especially when they have easy access. Most people know those statistics and the fact that children are predominantly abused by those they know, are related to, or are caring for them. That is important, but there are other things to consider.

The third concern that has not been talked about in the articles noted above is this. Is the accused or alleged perpetrator flawed of character? In other words, is this a person who has demonstrated a willingness to bend rules, push boundaries, break laws, do immoral or unethical acts? For instance, in taboo cases such as parent on child or stepparent on child allegations, has that person demonstrated too much familiarity, has there been improper flirting, touching, caressing, revealing of genitals, touching of genitals or even discussions that dwell on things that are improper between a parent or adult and a child?

This is significant because it is these individuals who are flawed of character who tend do so much harm – especially to children. We have to ask ourselves: is this an individual who would take advantage of a child, who feels entitled to do as he or she pleases? Does this individual have proclivities that clearly show a willingness to see a child as a sex object worthy of his or her attention or advances? Is this person willing to enter into a courtship relationship with a child and or behave in ways usually reserved for an adult? Does this individual isolate himself with the child, flirt with the child, allow a child to fall in love with him or her or become enamored, looks upon a child in a sexual manner, with the willingness to act on those desires? Is he or she inhibited in any way to abide by social norms, rules, and laws? We may not know in cases of she said, he said, as we have here, exactly what happened, but when we deal with individuals flawed of character, and we can determine that from their past behavior, then we must listen to the victim, as the victim’s testimony merits greater weight.

Lastly, as we have learned with the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case at Penn State and the hundreds of child abuse cases arising out of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal spanning decades, is that anyone, no matter how venerated, how high in social status, how nice they may seem, how rich, good-looking, or talented is above suspicion. Predators are everywhere and they come masked and prepared to hide their evil deeds, and sometimes only the victims truly know these monsters for what they are. The world may see them one way when in fact they are sexual predators at the core – truly flawed of character.

The question then is what to make of these individuals when they cannot be prosecuted or convicted for whatever the reason (out of jurisdiction, such as in the case of Roman Polanski, or there is not sufficient evidence to satisfy a jury). In the Farrow case the prosecutor found there was “probable cause” to move the case forward but declined prosecution to protect the “fragility” of the child victim. This is one for us as a society to discuss.

One well-meaning clinician wrote in a major op-ed piece that “it’s essential to separate the art from the artist not only for philosophical reasons but also for practical ones.” She further added, “…if we delved into the private lives of every single artist…we’d find plenty not to like… It’s possible we’d never see a movie, look at a work of art, or read a book again.” That breathtaking statement was supported by this: “back in the ’80s, Oscar winner Sean Penn took a baseball bat to the head of then wife Madonna.” This sort of logic is unsettling as well as faulty. Why draw the line there with gifted actors? What if the accused/predator paints his house nicely or mows his lawn expertly every week? You can’t separate behavior that shapes our character from life – life is about how we comport ourselves all of the time, not just when we are being artistic as is implied, but most certainly when we are alone with a child. The Sean Penn / Madonna analogy is of course also a vacuous argument on its face, demonstrating once again that not all analogies are analogous. You cannot compare an adult-on-adult assault with the sexual violation of a prepubescent child.

We may not know for certain what happened, as the judge in the Allen / Farrow custody trial noted, but we can ask questions and make informed judgments. Once we have considered all the facts and considered the issues mentioned here (post-event psychological distress of victim; flawed individuals), then we must ask ourselves as a society: how do we handle individuals flawed of character who do egregious nasty things in private? Their offense is not just against the victim - it is also against society as all felonies are.

In England, after his death, popular TV host and DJ, Jimmy Savile was found to have sexually abused hundreds of children, yet he was never convicted of his crimes. Should we give him an award posthumously because he did so much good work over the decades in the entertainment industry or on behalf of charities? Or should we also consider that he turned children into sexual theme parks for his sordid pleasure? That is the slippery slope of rewarding or even recognizing individuals severely flawed of character.

The question then for all of us collectively has to be, “Is any painting, picture, movie, or weekend handiwork around the house worth the same as the sanctity of a child?” Artistry and talent should come sans violence and predation – these are not acceptable or excusable, no matter how clever the individual, artist or performer. When we bestow accolades upon those flawed of character, where there are no social sanctions for opprobrious violations, we do a further injustice to the victims, and for that society bears some responsibility.

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Joe Navarro is a former FBI Special Agent, criminal profiler, and the author of the international bestseller, What Every Body is Saying , Louder Than Words, and the soon-to-be published Dangerous Personalities (Rodale). Copyright © 2014 Joe Navarro.

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