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Woody Allen Learnings

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What Can We Learn from The Accusations Against Woody Allen?

By Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D and first published on The Leadership Council

The current public drama of accusation being played out between Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen is a familiar dynamic to child abuse professionals who work in the family court arena. Unfortunately, child abuse experts know that family court is a difficult venue for a child who alleges sexual abuse to be protected. While in Dylan Farrow’s case, the Judge protected her, in many cases children are forced into ongoing contact despite their allegations. The Leadership Council has researched cases of custody litigation in which children were placed with their alleged abusers and later judges reversed those decisions. Through our research we have identified how and why many courts fail to protect children. One of the main reasons is because many professionals are not well educated in this area and misinterpret the signs of abuse and attribute them to a vengeful parent. Many seek physical evidence when it is rare for physical evidence to exist in molestation cases. Below are some of the common misconceptions highlighted by the Woody Allen—Dylan Farrow case that led some professionals or court personnel to overlook child abuse in the cases we have studied.

Many people believe that if someone is guilty of abuse, he would be in jail. After reviewing numerous studies, Bolen (2001) found that offenders may be convicted in only 1-2% of cases of suspected abuse known to professionals. (see Child sexual abuse: Its scope and our failure. New York: Kluwer Academic). While many people accused of abuse defend themselves by emphasizing the fact that the prosecutor didn’t go forward with the case against them, this means very little in terms of the truth of an abuse accusation. Few prosecutors are willing to try cases that rely on the testimony of a young child, as a child witness against a powerful man is not a case with a good chance of success. Especially since there are typically no physical injuries or physical evidence of abuse in molestation cases. Thus, the lack of prosecution should not be seen as evidence that a child is lying—only that the case would be hard to prove in court.

Many people believe that accusations of abuse during divorce are just a strategy to win custody. In fact, divorce is a logical consequence of finding out a partner is abusive and abuse claims during custody disputes are just as likely to be valid as those made at any other time. (see Myths That Place Children at Risk During Custody Disputes; see also My Thoughts on Dylan Farrow by Nancy Lee Grahn)

People believe coaching children to lie about abuse is common during divorce. In truth, purposefully false abuse claims account for less than 2% of abuse claims, according to government statistics.

While children are the ones who initiate accusations of abuse against them, the family court arena tries to recast all battles as between the parties, so that the allegations of the child are often referred to as the mother’s allegation if she supports her child. This automatically places the child’s disclosure into the realm of “he said—she said” which makes it easy to discount.

Dylan Farrow says in her open letter, “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.” Unfortunately, such accusations against mothers are almost universal in these types of cases. The accused parent (usually the father) will set out to convince court officials that the mother is angry and vindictive and coached the child to report abuse. The mother and child are then viewed with suspicion while the accused assumes the stance of the innocent victim. This defense strategy is often successful as it plays into common myths about abuse allegations in custody cases (see Myths That Place Children at Risk During Custody Disputes).

Another important myth is the belief that a person who both appears and acts normal could not be a child molester. It is hard for most people to imagine how any person could sexually abuse a child. Because they can’t imagine a “normal” person doing such a heinous act, they assume that child molesters must be monsters.  If the accused does not fit this stereotype (in other words if he appears to be a normal person), then many people will disbelieve the allegation, believing the accused to be incapable of such act. (see Child Abuse Myths). In truth, most perpetrators are otherwise normal appearing and acting members of society. Woody Allen’s public presentation, the way he looks and his level of success in his field should not lead people to make assumptions about his private conduct. In other words, Dylan Farrow’s credibility is completely unrelated to Woody Allen’s likeability as a person or talent as a filmmaker.

Some people believe that one instance of a boundary violation does not mean anything by itself. In fact, people who are willing to break known taboos and boundaries in one area are more likely to break them in others. For example, making sexual advances to your wife’s daughter is a boundary violation that sets up the younger person for exploitation.  Even if the young person is over age 18, a relationship with a much older, powerful, father figure will have an unequal power dynamic that automatically make her vulnerable. It is more difficult to freely give consent to a sexual relationship with someone who is in a position of power and authority.

Click here to read  articles and documents that shed further light on the dynamics of abuse allegations that arise during custody disputes.

Click to sign the petition for Con­gres­sional Over­sight Hear­ings on the Fail­ure of Fam­ily & Divorce Courts

 

Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D. is the Senior Consultant for Child and Adolescent Trauma at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore Maryland and the Executive Vice-President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.  Her psychotherapy practice specializes in children and adolescents suffering from dissociative symptoms and disorders, and her forensic practice specializes in child sexual abuse.  She has served as an expert witness in 27 states.

Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D. is the Senior Consultant for Child and Adolescent Trauma at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore Maryland and the Executive Vice-President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence. Her psychotherapy practice specializes in children and adolescents suffering from dissociative symptoms and disorders, and her forensic practice specializes in child sexual abuse. She has served as an expert witness in 27 states.

 

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