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Thoughts on Dylan

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My Thoughts on Dylan Farrow

By Nancy Lee Grahn and first published on her website

Much is being writ­ten about Dylan Farrow’s open let­ter in Saturday’s New York Times about the sex­ual abuse she suf­fered as a child, thanks to her pow­er­ful adop­tive father, film­maker and cur­rent Oscar nom­i­nee Woody Allen.

What isn’t being dis­cussed by the var­i­ous talk­ing heads on every major net­work are the hard and cold facts about child sex­ual abuse, par­tic­u­larly when this life-altering crime is han­dled by fam­ily courts dur­ing a divorce or cus­tody dispute.

Dylan wrote that, “There were experts will­ing to attack my cred­i­bil­ity. There were doc­tors will­ing to gaslight an abused child… I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of plant­ing the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defend­ing me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doc­tor after doc­tor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal bat­tle I couldn’t pos­si­bly understand.”

Through my and my daughter’s own four ago­niz­ing years in fam­ily court, I saw the flaws of this impen­e­tra­ble court sys­tem up close and per­sonal.  While my case did not involve sex­ual abuse, it was no less dis­turb­ing. While I do not wish to dis­cuss the specifics of my case at this time, I can tes­tify to the anguish this sys­tem puts on the chil­dren involved in an effort to pro­tect the par­ent in question.

While I know a thing or two about the ter­ri­ble state of this country’s fam­ily courts, and I’ve tes­ti­fied in Sacra­mento about the need for judi­cial over­sight and sys­tem reform aimed at keep­ing chil­dren safer dur­ing cus­tody dis­putes, I wasn’t as famil­iar with the facts about how child sex­ual abuse sur­vivors are far­ing in the nation’s fam­ily courts.

Since so many pun­dits are bas­ing their opin­ions on “vic­tim blam­ing,” “mother blam­ing,” or a mis­un­der­stand­ing of child sex­ual abuse and the courts’ treat­ment of it, and since Dylan’s open let­ter speaks directly to the legal system’s mis­han­dling of her child­hood trauma, I want to share with you some impor­tant facts that expose just how bro­ken the fam­ily court sys­tem is, par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren who have suf­fered sex­ual abuse by a par­ent or author­ity figure.

The Cen­ter for Judi­cial Excel­lence, which tracks hor­rific cases like Dylan’s, and advo­cates for wide­spread sys­tem reform of the nation’s fam­ily courts, shared the fol­low­ing star­tling facts with me, which were com­piled by their col­leagues at Child Abuse Solutions.

Every dis­cus­sion about whether Dylan is telling the truth needs to be grounded in facts.

1) Chil­dren hardly ever fab­ri­cate alle­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse. Stud­ies ana­lyz­ing mali­ciously fab­ri­cated alle­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse have found that chil­dren bring only 0% to 2% of such alle­ga­tions. There is no rep­utable research to sup­port the notion that chil­dren can be brain­washed to believe they have been sex­u­ally abused when they have not.

2) Mali­ciously fab­ri­cated alle­ga­tions of child sex­ual abuse are exceed­ingly rare. Most stud­ies find that only 1% to 6% of all child sex­ual abuse alle­ga­tions in cus­tody and vis­i­ta­tion dis­putes are mali­ciously fab­ri­cated. The remain­ing 94% to 99% of such alle­ga­tions are either true or were brought in good faith, based upon a rea­son­able sus­pi­cion. Stud­ies find that fam­ily law judges con­sider alle­ga­tions of child phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse to be mali­ciously fab­ri­cated far more often than is sup­ported by the research.

3) Research has estab­lished that while moth­ers accuse fathers of child sex­ual abuse in 48% of cases involv­ing such alle­ga­tions, their alle­ga­tions are found to be mali­ciously fab­ri­cated only 1.3% of the time.

4) Med­ical evi­dence is very rare in cases involv­ing child sex­ual abuse. Even in legally con­firmed cases of vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion, the rate of abnor­mal med­ical find­ings is only 5.5%. The rate of abnor­mal med­ical find­ings in legally con­firmed cases of anal pen­e­tra­tion is only 1%.Genital tis­sue is very elas­tic and heals rapidly. Unless the child is exam­ined by a medico-legal sex­ual assault spe­cial­ist within 48 hours of the rape, any gen­i­tal tears are likely to have healed and DNA or semen will have disappeared.

5) The sin­gle most impor­tant indi­ca­tor of child sex­ual abuse is dis­clo­sure by the child to a trusted adult. Because fam­ily courts use a civil stan­dard of proof (a pre­pon­der­ance of the evi­dence, or just over a 50% like­li­hood) rather than the higher crim­i­nal stan­dard of proof (beyond a rea­son­able doubt), sub­stan­tially less evi­dence is required in fam­ily court to meet the bur­den of prov­ing that a child needs pro­tec­tion from sex­ual abuse. NOTE– This is why the fam­ily court judge was able to deny Mr. Allen vis­i­ta­tion with Dylan despite the fact that he was never crim­i­nally charged.

6) Chil­dren who dis­close sex­ual abuse by a par­ent in the con­text of a cus­tody dis­pute are fre­quently not pro­tected from fur­ther abuse. Research shows that:

  • Only 10% of chil­dren alleg­ing incest are ade­quately pro­tected from their iden­ti­fied per­pe­tra­tors by fam­ily courts through long-term super­vised vis­i­ta­tion orders or no-contact orders.

  • The remain­ing 90% of chil­dren dis­clos­ing abuse receive no pro­tec­tion, with 70% con­tin­u­ing in shared cus­tody and vis­i­ta­tion arrange­ments with­out any super­vi­sion, and 20% being placed in the cus­tody of the par­ent they accused of the sex­ual abuse, and los­ing unsu­per­vised or all con­tact with the par­ent who sought to pro­tect them.

*For the spe­cific research cita­tions on all of the facts shared above, go here: or visit Child Abuse Solutions.

Given this last fact, what is remark­able about Dylan Farrow’s expe­ri­ence is that the fam­ily court in her case actu­ally pro­tected her from ongo­ing con­tact with her alleged abuser.  She was part of the only 10% of child sex abuse vic­tims who are pro­tected from their abusers dur­ing and after a divorce and/or cus­tody fight.  In her case, the Judge appar­ently found her claim of abuse “more prob­a­ble than not” despite the Yale psy­chol­o­gists’ reports sub­mit­ted by Woody Allen’s attor­neys.  Much is made by Woody Allen’s camp that a group of Yale psy­chol­o­gists found that the abuse did not hap­pen and was either Dylan’s fan­tasy or that the abuse was “implanted” by Mia Far­row.  These Yale psy­chol­o­gists, how­ever, were notably psy­chol­o­gists that Woody Allen treated with, and paid.  Addi­tion­ally, they never inter­viewed the cor­rob­o­rat­ing wit­nesses and they destroyed their notes, which in these cases are never done.  It is not sur­pris­ing that the judge noted that he had reser­va­tions about the reli­a­bil­ity of the Yale report.

More impor­tantly, the State’s team of psy­chol­o­gists — note they were not hired by Woody Allen or Mia Far­row — did find Dylan’s claims cred­i­ble.  While it is true that Woody Allen was not charged crim­i­nally, the pros­e­cu­tor explained that while he had prob­a­ble cause to charge Woody Allen, he was not doing so because of his and Mia Farrow’s con­cern for the fragility of Dylan and what going through a crim­i­nal action would mean to her.  So, yes, Woody Allen has never been found guilty under the crim­i­nal code for child sex­ual abuse.  But the judge in the fam­ily court action effec­tively made the deter­mi­na­tion that it was more prob­a­ble than not that the abuse occurred and Woody Allen received no visitation.  This find­ing was upheld by an appel­late court that affirmed the judge’s order on this point.

The sys­tem fails many other chil­dren which is why The Cen­ter for Judi­cial Excel­lence and other child-focused orga­ni­za­tions are urg­ing peo­ple con­cerned about the dan­gers of fam­ily courts for child sex abuse vic­tims to sign their peti­tion demand­ing Con­gres­sional Over­sight Hear­ings on the Fail­ure of Fam­ily &Divorce Courts. Their Kids of Divorce Speak Out cam­paign also shares videos of young sur­vivors like Dylan who are speak­ing out about the cri­sis in the nation’s fam­ily courts that are steal­ing their child­hoods and harm­ing so many child abuse survivors.

We should all work to ensure that sur­vivors like Dylan Far­row are sup­ported when they speak out about their abuse. We should inves­ti­gate the facts, all of them, before form­ing conclusions.

I would encour­age peo­ple to not think of Woody Allen as a famous artist, but as a man.  No more or less spe­cial than any­one else. Whether art can be sep­a­rated from the indi­vid­ual is a per­sonal con­sid­er­a­tion and a deci­sion every­one is enti­tled to make on their own.  However, if you love Woody Allen movies, do not use your appre­ci­a­tion of Woody Allen’s art as a basis to chal­lenge Dylan Farrow’s cred­i­bil­ity.  Although for some the issue of whether the art can be sep­a­rated from the man is open to debate, for me it can­not.  I can, how­ever, state with absolute impunity that Dylan Farrow’s story and her cred­i­bil­ity is com­pletely unre­lated to how good a film­maker Woody Allen is.

I would also urge every­one to be wary of claims of bit­ter or vin­dic­tive moth­ers.  Any mother’s attor­ney will put the fear of God in a mother before abuse is ever men­tioned to a Court because of the high risk that the Court will end up remov­ing the chil­dren from her and giv­ing them to the abuser. You speak and risk removal, or you remain scared and silent. As unthink­able as this is, it hap­pens with great reg­u­lar­ity. Visit The Cen­ter For Judi­cial Excel­lence web­page and you will see just how often.

I have great appre­ci­a­tion for Dylan. Her courage to speak out in such a pub­lic way has insti­gated a long needed dia­logue about these “pri­vate fam­ily mat­ters” that are leav­ing our chil­dren unpro­tected and silenced by a sys­tem that must instead give them a voice and actu­ally lis­ten to them.

Thank you for listening,

Nancy Lee Grahn

Nancy Lee Grahn is an Emmy-winning actress, cur­rently star­ring as “Alexis Davis” on ABC’s Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. Nancy is also a tire­less cam­paigner for the polit­i­cal and social causes she sup­ports. She founded “Day­time for Choice” in 1989, focus­ing on the pro­tec­tion of Roe v. Wade — work she has con­tin­ued through the present, includ­ing speak­ing engage­ments dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Nancy cham­pi­ons a wide range of women’s and children’s issues, devot­ing her time, efforts, and voice to the causes she holds dear.

Nancy Lee Grahn is an Emmy-winning actress, cur­rently star­ring as “Alexis Davis” on ABC’s Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal.
Nancy is also a tire­less cam­paigner for the polit­i­cal and social causes she sup­ports. She founded “Day­time for Choice” in 1989, focus­ing on the pro­tec­tion of Roe v. Wade — work she has con­tin­ued through the present, includ­ing speak­ing engage­ments dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Nancy cham­pi­ons a wide range of women’s and children’s issues, devot­ing her time, efforts, and voice to the causes she holds dear.

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