Dylan Farrow and Questioning the Victim

Kristen Howerton, a blogger I very much respect, recently wrote a post on her blog Rage Against the Minivan addressing Dylan Farrow’s open letter on NYTimes.com and the subsequent reaction. Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, broke her silence and publicly shared her story of abuse at the hands of Allen. Her letter has reopened the debate surrounding not only Allen’s guilt but our treatment of sexual abuse victims.

For her part, Kristen makes her point very clear.

In review, IT’S NEVER OKAY TO QUESTION SOMEONE’S ACCOUNT OF SEXUAL ABUSE unless you are the accused or representing the accused in a court of law. For everyone else, it’s not of our business, and publicly speculating that it’s a lie is perpetuating the rape culture that tells women that they should stay silent. Or worse, that it’s up for debate if they come forward.

Wondering if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth? It doesn’t matter. It’s not our place to question her story.

In many ways, I agree with her. We all know the dangers of victim-blaming. I can't imagine the strength it takes to give public voice to such an incredibly private struggle. However, I think the problem with Kristen's post is it assumes all victims and all victims' stories are the same. 

Dylan Farrow is not accusing Woody Allen in a court of law where one could argue no one but the accused has the right of rebuttal. Dylan Farrow is accusing Woody Allen in the court of public opinion.

To expose yourself to the court of public opinion as a sex abuse victim is very brave. However, to expose yourself to the court of public opinion and expect no one to question your story is unrealistic. 

Even if we shouldn't question the facts of her story, the timing of Dylan Farrow’s revelations are interesting. Both Dylan’s letter, as well as angry tweets from her mother and brother, came after Woody Allen was recognized with the Cecil B. DeMille Aware by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Their argument seems to be that the professional achievements of Woody Allen should never be celebrated because of the alleged sexual abuse. 

She also seems to argue that anyone who has worked with Allen or merely enjoys his work is condoning sexual abuse. If you as a victim are accusing others of being complacent in your abuse then you cannot be surprised when those same people defend themselves by questioning your story.  

Many, including the Academy Awards who have also recognized the artistic accomplishments of Woody Allen, argue that one’s professional achievements should be wholly and completely separate form one’s personal life. 

I don't believe a complete separation is realistic or even achievable. And yet would not our museums be empty if we refused to enjoy the artwork of those with personal behavior with which we do not agree or even find repugnant? Pablo Picasso was a serial cheater. Auguste Rodin was 43 when he began a passionate affair with his 18-year-old student. 

I’ve enjoyed many of Woody Allen's recent films and Blue Jasmine deserves to be seen by every one, not because of Allen’s work but because of the once-in-a-lifetime performance of Cate Blanchett. 

Am I condoning the personal behavior of Woody Allen by seeing his films? By celebrating the genius that is Annie Hall? I feel like Dylan Farrow is saying I am but I’m not so sure. 

I question that assertion and I believe I have a right to do so.