When ‘He Wasn’t Convicted’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Innocent’

See all our responses to Dylan Farrow’s open letter here.

After decades of silence, Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of actress and activist Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen, has stepped forward to publicly assert that Allen sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old. The assault came after what she describes as a number of disturbing behaviors that sound like grooming, a term for the process predators use to initiate an abusive dynamic with victims, to encourage secrecy and test how much abuse they can get away with disguising as love. For instance, Dylan wrote of Allen putting his thumb in her mouth, of resting his head in her naked lap, and making her get under the covers with him while he was in his underwear.

In an open letter published on a New York Times blog, Dylan wrote of a childhood spent frightened and silent and hiding in small, dark spaces, under beds and in closets, trying to avoid her alleged assailant. “He always found me,” she wrote.

It’s a dangerous situation to turn a particular case into a metaphor for a typical case, but as so often happens when recognizable names publicly wrestle with contentious issues, the Farrow-Allen dynamic is now a divisive flashpoint. For many, Dylan has become a symbol—a stand-in speaking the rage of countless victims of childhood sexual abuse who never saw justice, while Allen’s the stand-in for every abuser who ever got away with it.

There are way too many people represented on both sides of that equation. Imagine any other violent crime where so few survivors saw justice. It’s not an accident, though. It is, in part, by design.

It’s obviously not my place to say if Woody Allen is guilty or not. But when the charge is child sex abuse, “he wasn’t convicted” hardly means “innocent.” Our criminal justice system may be based on the presumption of innocence in the absence of contrary evidence in court, it’s also built with laws designed to stop childhood sexual abuse victims from getting into a courtroom.

Historically, statutes of limitation (SOLs) on childhood sex abuse, the parameters for how long a victim has before criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit, have been set so short that by the time an abused child becomes an adult, the option is gone.

Under Connecticut law, children assaulted in 1992, the same year that Dylan Farrow says she was abused by Allen, had seven years from the time of the assault, or two years after turning 18, whichever is shorter. (Farrow and Allen were in Connecticut at the time she says she was assaulted.)

A 7-year-old, as Farrow was, had until age 14 to pursue a court case.

How many 14-year-old kids do you know who would be able to not only recognize abuse that has been packaged as love, but be ready for the fallout?

Getting to that point is a psychologically and emotionally difficult process that often takes years—decades, even. In many cases, it’s simply logistically impossible for a survivor to pursue a legal case.

In 2002, Connecticut’s SOL had been extended, reflecting the trend across the country of dragging out, or even abolishing, statutes to reflect what we are learning about how survivors process trauma. (Check your state law here.)

We now know, for example, that childhood victims of sexual abuse often don’t inform authorities, or anyone, about their abuse for years, especially when the abuser is a well-respected authority figure or family member.

We know, too, that children most scared of the consequences of reporting their abuse sometimes deny or recant their story, and that doesn’t mean they’re lying. A study that examined 250 cases of substantiated sexual abuse found that approximately 25 percent of the children recanted at some point, and the kids most likely to waver were the ones abused by a family member.

We also know that many victims don’t disclose childhood abuse at all until adulthood, when they first experience the tentacles of that monster reaching out to destroy relationships because they can’t trust, and destroy their bodies because they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs as they discover that commanding themselves to “get over it” doesn’t work, no matter how hard they try.

Sometimes it “clicks” after a triggering event, such as a friend’s revelation, or a big story like the Jerry Sandusky or Jimmy Savile case. Or, as Dylan wrote, when your assailant is so rich and famous and beloved that the world routinely stands up and claps for him at ceremonies that he doesn’t deign to attend—all after marrying your adopted sister.

Even though SOLs have been extending, they don’t apply retroactively, so they will most benefit future victims. In general, the law that existed during your abuse is the law that applies to your case. Just last August, for example, charges filed against a Connecticut school psychologist accused of sexually assaulting a middle-school boy were abruptly dismissed once the court learned the alleged rapes took place in 2000 and 2001, before the statute granted victims the right to come forward up to age 50.

In that case, as with all survivors who discover they’ve run down a clock they didn’t know was ticking, the boy has suffered because of both his assailant and the special interests that have consistently fought against extending SOLs.

Who would fight against justice in this way? Well, besides Hollywood’s elite, the Roman Catholic Church.

The reasons come with a lot of zeroes at the end: It’s no wonder, for example, that the Catholic Church has been fighting SOL reform in Pennsylvania, given the forthcoming civil suits from the sex abuse crisis and the fact that not one priest identified in the 2005 grand jury reporting investigating the Philadelphia archdiocese was prosecuted, all thanks to SOLs. SOLs helped Sandusky as well.

In fact, SOLs on child sex abuse seem to help everyone but the survivors.

All in all, the odds are so stacked against survivors that only 3 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail. There is a heavy thumb on the scales of justice. It is well-documented. To trot out “but he wasn’t convicted” as definitive proof of innocence of child rape against the backdrop of this system amounts to willful ignorance, a cheap attempt to exploit what should be a sacred tenet of our legal system in an effort to dignify the rape culture myth that says victims are presumed to be lying until proven otherwise in a court of law—and by the way, good luck getting there.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Tara Murtha on twitter: @taramurtha

  • penguin_boy

    The other side of the coin is that being accused doesn’t mean guilty.

    • BJ Survivor

      Who ever claimed it did?…Didn’t take long for the rape apologists to defend the indefensible, did it?

      • onebadgungan

        How is that “rape apology” to point out that one of the pillars of our legal system is “innocent until proven guilty”?

        • BJ Survivor

          This is not a court of law, but the court of public opinion. Woody Allen’s inappropriate behavior toward his stepdaughters is a matter of public record. His skeeviness is on record. He married his 18-year-old stepdaughter. Anyone who thinks he waited until she was 18 to start a sexual relationship with her is seriously deluded. He even admits that he was never left alone with his stepdaughters. Now, why might that be? Why would Mia Farrow not let her SO be alone with her daughters?

          And just because someone is found “not guilty” doesn’t mean they are innocent of the crime. Rape and sexual assault are notoriously easy for perps to get off, if they are even reported at all.

          • onebadgungan

            So, your speculation makes him guilty, and how is that legal again?

          • L-dan

            How is it not legal? We don’t have thought police running around deciding what we can think. OJ Simpson was acquitted and tons of people continued to believe he murdered Nicole.

          • onebadgungan

            Yeah, i butchered that comment. I meant just because BJ thinks someone’s guilty, it doesn’t mean they actually are guilty of anything in a legal sense. DavidPun said it better.

          • BJ Survivor

            It’s legal, because I have a right to my opinion. Just like it is my opinion that O.J. Simpson and George Zimmerman were guilty, even though both got off.

          • DavidPun

            I see. So even if a person is found NOT GUILTY, it doesn’t match your theories so you are going to tell everyone that they should stull consider him guilty.

          • BJ Survivor

            Yep. Just like I and many others consider George Zimmerman guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed boy, even though a jury found him “not guilty.” Again, “not guilty” does not mean “innocent.”

      • penguin_boy

        Wow, are you completely and utterly wrong. Life-long atheist here.

        How is pointing out the simple fact that he hasn’t been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes? This alleged event was investigated when it was first brought to light, and the authorities declined to file charges.

        Seriously, calling me a fundie is the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks. I actively oppose organized religions and encourage rational thinking in everyone. Which is why I felt the need to point out that Mia Farrow has a record of making wild accusations and resurrects this particular story every time Allen makes the news.

        Is Woody Allen a really creepy guy? Without any doubt. But I refuse to take part in a lynch mob mentality.

        • L-dan

          lynch mob? So a bunch of folks in the court of public opinion decide that Woody Allen probably molested his daughter. Or…more like a bunch of them voice their support for Dylan Farrow and sympathy for what she’s been through.

          I don’t see this doing much. He’s still wealthy, famous, and able to do whatever he wants. Kind of a far cry from lynch mob.

          Maybe some other famous people won’t invite him to their parties. But given all the support Roman Polanski still has, I sort of doubt anyone would go *that* far.

          • DavidPun

            Yes lynch mob. Why the F**k would she publish an article in a newspaper and not take this to the police if she really had proof. The reality is that some men are sexual predators and some people are pathological liars trying to line things up for a lucrative lawsuit. We have no way of knowing. Why would you trust her rather than Woody Allen. Because shes a cute young female? BS.

          • L-dan

            And why trust Woody Allen instead of her? Because he’s famous? Also BS.

            And how is this a lynch mob? Are a group of people going to actually physically accost Mr. Allen and drag him off to subject him to whatever they think he deserves? Pretty sure all he has to deal with is a few people that he will never even know thinking he’s slimy. Maybe he won’t be invited to a party or two, but even that’s a slim chance.

            The Statute of limitations is well past. There will be no police at this point. What proof should abused children take to the police anyway? Frequently all they have is their word. So they should just shut up unless they’ve got a proper rape kit, or maybe video?

            Statistically? The odds are better on believing her, frankly. It’s also more humane. Assuming the principals involved were ever to see my words, I’d prefer that they supported Dylan rather than her father. Since, if I’m right Dylan really needs to be hearing support rather than condemnation for speaking out. If I’m wrong, I rather doubt my opinion is going to affect Mr. Allen in the slightest.

          • DavidPun

            Perhaps I phrased my statement wrongly. I didn’t mean that we should not trust her and that we should trust Woody Allen. Given the allegations and the circumstances behind this we should not trust EITHER party. We need to find evidence before we start believing either party. Accusing a man of sexual abuse has led some men to commit suicide because of the ensuing destruction of their lives, character and reputation. It is not just children that get hurt.
            Of course I understand that if a distressed child tells someone that he/she has been abused their allegations should be taken very seriously and account taken of the fact that a child is involved. But twenty odd years later??? And jumping out and declaring this in an article in a National Newspaper. Sorry, but in the US, that type of behavior is much more often related to someone being told they can financial payback.
            I have seen cases where some people have lived very sad and distressed lives and eventually blurted out the details of the traumatic incidents that have destroyed their lives. A lot of this has occurred with kids who were abused by priests for example. For people like that….absolutely I agree with you 100% that they need to given very careful and supportive attention ……because there is EVIDENCE that would lead a rational person to accept that it is possible or even probable cause. But that is not the case here. She is just playing into the sick American pathology of playing these things out in full public view in the media so that millions of people can be entertained. As a gambling man, I am willing to place a wager that everyone posting here (me included) doesn’t give a “monkey’s toss” about Dylan Farrow and will happily move onto the next piece of media trash dangled in front of us and never give them another thought….and happily leave all the wreckage behind.
            Am I cynical? You bet I am.

      • DavidPun

        I’m not sure I like Woody Allen, but this whole thing smells very suspicious. I think she is probably lying…let me guess she is planning a lawsuit! But the real point is that anyone can say anything. In the court of law, we need proof and there is none. Absolutely none.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebekah-Becky-Majors-Manley/100000808133635 Rebekah Becky Majors-Manley

    I am standing in strong solidarity with Dylan.

  • dakota923

    even when they do get to court, the littlest mistakes in the timeline of the abuse can cause the abuser to go free even though he was guilty. i sat on a jury that was just that sort of case. we all knew he did it, but due to some discrepancies in the victim’s timeline we couldn’t find him guilty. it was one of the most horrible experiences in my life.

  • Mindy McIndy

    I don’t know what to think about this whole thing. On one hand, I am a fan of Woody Allen’s work, and don’t want to believe that he has done anything this awful. On the other hand, the allegations are pretty awful and specific, and he does have a history of creepy behavior. If true, it certainly puts that scene from “Annie Hall” where he is talking to his young classmates and the little girl says “I’m into leather” into a much creepier, darker light. As someone who has been raped and molested, I refuse to not give the victim the benefit of the doubt. I feel terrible for Dylan Farrow, and hope that she has gotten some help. I do think both her mother and father are pretty creepy people (creeple?) but I won’t let her parentage reflect negatively on her. This is a very shitty situation for everyone involved.

  • BJ Survivor

    And this still doesn’t mean that Woody Allen did not, in fact, molest her.