Is Woody Allen guilty? I don’t know – and neither do you

It seems I’ve failed Feminism 101 and lost myself a few friends this week.  It’s not the first time I’ve failed to side with the sisterhood and I doubt it will be the last. C’est la vie.

My ‘F’ minus’ in Feminism comes as a result of my refusal to accept that Hollywood director, Woody Allen, is a definitely a pedophile based on the supposedly incontestable  testimony of his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.

Let me make my position clear.

At no point have I argued that Dylan Farrow lied in the open letter that was published in the New York Times.  I have no doubt that Dylan Farrow believes every detail of the allegations she has made against Woody Allen.

I think there is no doubt whatsoever that Dylan Farrow is the victim of parental abuse. I do, however, think there is a question about which parent was the abuser.

I have not ‘defended’ Woody Allen, nor insisted that he is innocent. I have simply stated, repeatedly, in numerous online discussions that both sides have compelling arguments and that the general public (of which I am a member) should concede that we don’t know enough about this case to make a determination either way.

Sure, Woody Allen might be guilty, but despite an investigation at the time of the initial allegation and in the 20 years since, that has not been proven.

I have little interest in Woody Allen or his movies. As a woman – indeed, as a human being – I am, of course, deeply concerned about the ghastly damage inflicted upon the victims of sexual assault, particularly when the victims are children.

There are few women, myself included, who have not experienced sexual assault to some degree. Dylan Farrow is clearly a brave young woman who has been through an incredible amount of pain. I am well aware that, having told her story, that pain is made infinitely worse by suggestions that she is ‘making it all up’ or worse, making it all up for some kind of personal gain. I don’t think that.

I have not at any stage suggested that Dylan ‘invented’ her story. I think that is so unlikely that the possibility can be dismissed. I believe unequivocally that Dylan Farrow wrote an honest account of her recollection of being abused by her father. And, just to make it clear, I have not discounted the possibility that her recollection is accurate; I’ve simply said that, as relatively uninformed members of the general public, we cannot, in honesty, say we know that to be the case. We don’t. We can’t.

I have been told, repeatedly, that children almost never make up stories about being sexually abused. I am yet to see the research which supports that statement, but I’m happy to accept it. According to Wikipedia:

“Studies of child abuse allegations suggest that the overall rate of false accusation is under 10%.”

Apparently, other studies suggest the percentage may be as small as 2 per cent. I’m happy to accept that, too.

Whether 10 percent or 2 percent, the  percentage may be small, but it’s not insignificant – especially if you happen to be the one who has been wrongly accused.

Should we automatically assume that every man accused of child molestation is guilty because 90 per cent of them are?

Is it really fair or reasonable to throw the other 10 per cent to the wolves in the way that Woody Allen and his reputation have been hurled into the public arena to be slavered over by online pundits who don’t even seem capable of googling to verify the bullshit they post as ‘fact’ in online discussions.

If a child says they have been sexually abused, I absolutely think they must be taken seriously. The child should be removed from contact with the alleged perpetrator  and the matter thoroughly investigated. No question. I accept that allegations of child sexual abuse are almost never false.

But, ‘almost never’ is not ‘never’.  So, if you’re going to argue that the allegations made by Dylan and Mia Farrow might be the rare exception to the rule, you need to ask what was exceptional about that case that would make it different from most others.

I think the unique and unusual dynamics of the Allen/Farrow relationship at the time of Dylan’s alleged assault raise enough questions to suggest this may be one of the rare exceptions to the rule. May be; not is. Remember, my thesis here is not that Allen is definitely innocent (or guilty). It’s  that we simply don’t have enough information to say for sure either way.

Kathleen Coulbourn Faller, PhD, an expert in child sexual abuse, writes:

“Clinicians and researchers in the field of sexual abuse are in agreement that false allegations by children are extremely rare. Further in those unusual instances where they do occur, there is usually some serious malfunction in the family.”

It would be hard to find a more dysfunctional family than the Allen/Farrow household(s) at the time of the alleged assault on Dylan.

Farrow had discovered that her boyfriend, Woody Allen, had taken nude photos of her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn and was involved in a sexual relationship with her. Soon-Yi was 21 years old at the time. Allen was 56.

Soon-Yi was 10 when Allen and Farrow began dating. He was not her adoptive father. He was her mother’s boyfriend.  He did not live in the same residence as Farrow and her children.

In a 1992 interview for Time magazine (reported here) Soon-Yi Previn (by all credible accounts a highly intelligent and well-educated woman) confirmed that she never considered Allen a father figure in her life.

“To think that Woody was in any way a father or stepfather to me is laughable. My parents are Andre Previn and Mia, but obviously they’re not even my real parents.”

“I came to America when I was seven. I was never remotely close to Woody. He was someone who was devoted exclusively to his own children and to his work, and we never spent a moment together.”

According to Soon-Yi:

“I was not raped, molested or manipulated as Mia has hysterically charged …”

Soon-Yi Previn explains that her relationship with Allen began when she was around 20 years old at a time when his relationship with Farrow was in its death throes.

Tacky it might be, but Woody Allen was clearly not having a relationship with his ‘adopted daughter’ or  ‘step-daughter’.  He never adopted Soon-Yi. He was never married to Farrow. Nor is a 56 year old having a relationship with a 19 or 20 year old suggestive of pedophilia – no matter what the ‘ewwww’ factor.

It’s interesting that prior to accusing Allen of molesting Dylan, Ms Farrow appears to have falsely accused him of raping and molesting Soon-Yi.  If it is wrong to doubt Dylan Farrow, is it not also wrong to assume that Soon-Yi Previn was lying in her interview with Time magazine? Surely she knew whether or not she had been raped or molested by Allen. Surely she knew whether her mother’s allegations were real or invented.

Sure, it’s possible Soon-Yi was manipulated by a wily older man and, as a young woman, felt obligated to defend him. It’s possible. But, given the  fact that Previn and Allen have been happily ensconced in a stable and apparently happy marriage since 1997, I think the idea that Previn is some kind of ‘victim’ is highly suspect and, frankly, doesn’t give her much credit.

For many of the misinformed commentators Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn corroborates Dylan Farrow’s allegations. Indeed, if Allen had molested Soon-Yi from age 10 to 20 and then manipulated her into marrying him I’d be a lot quicker to condemn him. But, according to Soon-Yi, that’s not what happened. I think we should believe her.

Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi is not the ‘smoking gun’  it appears to be when you beat it up as ‘Allen fucked his adopted daughter’. On the other hand, Mia Farrow’s eagerness to portray Allen as a child molester should give us pause for thought. Why is that being ignored as a ‘smoking gun’ ?

A clinical psychologist, Dr Susan Coates, who was close to the family at the time of the alleged assault  testified at the Farrow v Allen custody trial that after the relationship between Allen and Soon-Yi Previn was discovered, Mia Farrow’s behavior became  ‘ increasingly erratic’.

A nanny who was working in the household at the time confirmed in 1993 that Ms. Farrow was suffering ‘dramatic mood swings and had screaming fits about Mr. Allen’, often in front of the children.

According to Dr Coates, Ms. Farrow described Mr. Allen as ‘satanic and evil’ and confided that she was desperate to  “find a way to stop him.”

Soon after, according to Dr Coates, Farrow, uncharacteristically calm, made the allegation that Allen had molested 7 year old Dylan.

Later, more than one of the household nannies cast doubt on the allegation as did Allen and Farrow’s adopted 14 year old son, Moses.

Nanny, Monica Thompson, said in a signed affidavit that:

“Moses came over to me and said that he believes that Ms. Farrow had made up the accusation that was being said by Dylan.”

Moses Farrow is now a family therapist. He is on good terms with Allen and Soon-Yi and, reportedly,  still “thinks that Mia brainwashed his seven-year-old sister into believing she was assaulted.”

To be fair, Dylan’s brother, Ronan backs his mother’s version. But, at the time of the allegations, Moses was 14 and Ronan was about 9. Which brother would we expect to have a clearer view about what was happening in that household at the time?

Should we doubt the nanny, Monica Thompson? Perhaps. She initially backed Farrow’s version and her salary was being paid by Woody Allen. But is it fair to assume that she would perjure herself  in order to protect or bolster her income?  Having cared for Dylan would she exchange the child’s safety for money by failing to tell the truth in a custody case? She may have, of course. But I don’t think it’s very charitable of ‘the sisterhood’ to automatically condemn Thompson as having been ‘paid off’.

I’ve been accused of betraying the sisterhood for casting doubt on the allegations made by Mia and Dylan Farrow. But what about the women – closer to the case than any of us – who also doubt the story? Don’t they deserve to be heard? Shouldn’t we give weight to their evidence and testimony?

Frankly, the idea that I am championing the cause of balance in this debate because of some culturally ingrained prejudice against my own gender is ridiculous.

The point I am trying to make is that the allegations against Allen were made in a highly charged emotional atmosphere in the midst of a highly dysfunctional family. Farrow was highly motivated (and probably rightly so!) to want to take revenge on Allen.

This was not a normal run-of-the-mill family. Nor was it a normal relationship breakdown. This was a breakdown on steroids with the added pressure of it being played out under an international spotlight. This is exactly the kind of exceptional situation which experts concede might lead to false allegations being made about sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that Farrow is obviously lying about the alleged assault on her daughter. It doesn’t mean that Dylan was obviously coached by Farrow to such a degree that a false memory was implanted.  But it does raise enough questions to suggest that the kangaroo court which has tried, convicted and all but burned Allen at the stake  in social media this month has abandoned all sense of balance, fairness and critical thinking.

That’s what concerns me most of all. That people who are usually sane, rational defenders of evidence and critical thought have joined this witch hunt with the very best of intentions (“We have to support the victim!”) without considering for one minute that Allen’s guilt is not certain.  In the blood-lust to condemn him, there seems to be no recognition that Woody Allen is not a cardboard cut-out celebrity; he is a human being who does not deserve to have his reputation and legacy destroyed unless he is found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt or at least, if that burden of proof is too high for cases of sexual assault, according to a reasonable weight of evidence. That hasn’t been proven on either count.

It’s been pointed out to me that sexual assault is very difficult to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. I understand that. But, what is the answer?

Do we just accept that the destruction of the lives and reputations of those men who are falsely accused is the necessary price of protecting our children?

I can accept completely that, in cases that can’t be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ there may still be sufficient evidence to remove the child from contact with the accused or insist on supervised visits.  The protection of the child must be the first consideration in all things.  I believe this is what happened with Allen – his contact with his daughter was severely curtailed and eventually severed. His relationship with his son, Ronan (previously Satchel) was also destroyed. Given that there are some credible doubts about Farrow’s accusations against Allen, surely that’s sufficient punishment? Is the public flaying really fair, or necessary?

It’s been suggested to me that the idea of ‘false memory syndrome’ has been discredited.  It is true the idea that people repress memories of sexual abuse that can later be ‘recovered’ is so rare as to be virtually non-existent.  But we are not talking about  ‘repressed memories’  in the case of Dylan Farrow. We are talking about a small, impressionable child potentially having been coerced into saying and, later, believing that her father sexually assaulted her.

The American Psychological Association teases apart the two concepts of ‘repressed’ and ‘implanted’ memories and explains:

“First, it’s important to state that there is a consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them although they may not fully understand or disclose it. Concerning the issue of a recovered versus a pseudomemory, like many questions in science, the final answer is yet to be known. But most leaders in the field agree that although it is a rare occurrence, a memory of early childhood abuse that has been forgotten can be remembered later. However, these leaders also agree that it is possible to construct convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred.” [My emphasis.]

And, in the case of Dylan Farrow, we’re talking about an impressionable young child in a highly charged emotional environment in the midst of an imploding, high profile,  dysfunctional family possibly being encouraged to believe her father had molested her.  This is implanted memory, not recovered memory, and the possibility appears to be well accepted and based on credible research accepted by the APA.

Understandably, feminists are concerned that the idea of implanted memories can be used against women and their children; that women can ‘gaslighted‘ – have their credibility undermined with accusations that they are just being hysterical.

And yes, it’s possible this is what is being done to Mia Farrow.  Of course this is used against women and it’s destructive. What woman wouldn’t be emotional on finding her child had been sexually assaulted by anyone – let alone her father?  That shouldn’t be grounds for not taking her accusations seriously.

But, Farrow’s accusations were taken seriously. The matter was investigated.  A team of child abuse specialists (two of them, women) from Yale-New Haven Hospital concluded that Dylan had not been molested. Later, a Connecticut prosecutor thought that, perhaps, the child had been molested,  but declined to press charges.

What should not be forgotten by those hysterically concerned that a  precedent might be set if we believe Mia Farrow concocted the story about Allen’s abuse is that these were highly unusual circumstances in a decidedly ‘not average’ family.

If Farrow did implant a memory in her daughter, then this is an exceptional case, born out of exceptional and rare circumstances. It does not mean – and should never be taken to mean – that most women who accuse men of molesting their children are harridans out for revenge, or that most children’s memories are distorted by interfering mothers. MOST are not. But SOME are.

My object here is not to defend Woody Allen. I don’t know him. I’m not a particular fan of his movies. My object is to defend clear, critical thinking unimpaired by ideological agendas or well meaning sympathy for a clearly distressed young woman.

I understand that if Allen is innocent, if Dylan Farrow’s memory is false, it opens the door for other men, guilty men, to use it as a precedent to undermine the claims of their victims. I get that. Really, I do. I understand that the suggestion that Dylan’s mother might have used her as a weapon against Allen adds to the distress of those mothers who have been similarly slandered when they tried to defend and protect their children against abusers.  I am not missing the possible harm of advancing this theory.

But if Allen is innocent, is it fair to make him a sacrificial lamb because some people might, unfairly, take a case which is exceptional and try to argue that it is the norm?

It’s been argued that Allen is fair game for online speculation because it’s not a court of law and the same rules of evidence don’t apply. Frankly, I think that’s twaddle and so would you if it was your reputation and life-long legacy being trashed by strangers with no particular expert or inside knowledge of the allegation for which you’re being persecuted.

I don’t know about you, but for me, my good reputation means everything. If the twitterati started making false accusations about me that went viral I don’t think I’d be much comforted by the fact that the accusations couldn’t send me to jail. Would you?

Sure, people have a right to speculate. They have a right to hold opinions. What I am asking people to consider is whether joining a crusade to destroy a person’s reputation, career and artistic legacy is ethical when, a clear-eyed examination of the evidence and circumstances surrounding the allegations suggest that there is an alternative explanation for Dylan’s distress.

I am not arguing that Woody Allen is innocent. I am not saying that Mia Farrow made it all up. What I am saying is that, a unbiased look at the evidence  suggests that alongside the possibility that Allen is guilty as charged lies the possibility that he isn’t.

My point is that we don’t know, we shouldn’t pretend to know and that it is unwise, unethical and yes, just plain dumb to act as if we do.

I’m shocked and disappointed that so many people who spend their lives standing up for science, evidence, rationalism, critical thinking, human rights and justice have leaped on to this particular bandwagon because of an ideological belief that casting doubt upon one high profile, contentious allegation of abuse somehow taints all mothers and weakens the claims of all victims.

I won’t jump on that bandwagon, or join in that witch-hunt – even if I lose my feminist’s wings.

Ultimately, skepticism, rationalism, critical thinking and plain, honest fairness are more important to me than the respect of a sisterhood which, in this case at least, seems to have abandoned them.

Chrys Stevenson

23 thoughts on “Is Woody Allen guilty? I don’t know – and neither do you

  1. Michelle Singh

    Very sensible commentary on incredibly complicated issues, Chrys. In my admittedly humble opinion, you haven’t lost your feminist wings – you’ve grown bigger and better ones :). I know, and know of, plenty of feminists who’d agree with you on this. Don’t despair!

  2. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336ad

    Our system of justice requires the presumption of innocence and that a case must be proven “Beyond reasonable doubt”

    I am a firm believer in this law, it may be far from perfect in all cases but it is probably the best system we will have for a very long time.

    The case was heard, the evidence was presented made public and listened to, it was not suppressed or hidden as in cases involving various religious organizations.

    It was a case where there was insufficient evidence to prove anything conclusively so innocence had to be presumed by the legal system.

    Dylan is free to make her comments and I am sure if any other information or evidence came to light there would be further investigation.

    Untill further evidence is produced the presumption of innocence is the law and should remain paramount.

  3. Elisabeth

    I’m relieved to read your analysis of this tragic family scenario here, Chrys. I’ve been troubled by the lynch mob mentality that’s sprung up and I, too, am quick to defend the need to believe a child who asserts she’s been abused. But abuse, as you say, can take many forms. And in this situation it’s unclear what has really happened. It’s dangerous to judge. We live in such a black and white world, but black and white thinking belongs to very small children, who hopefully grow out of that sort of reductive thinking with age, education and experience. Life is far more complex than simply the goodies and the baddies. Thank you.

  4. Russell Blackford

    That’s a good and very fair post, Chrys. Frankly, I have no idea why people so love these trial-by-media episodes. In most cases, we have nothing like the detailed, tested (e.g. by cross-examination) evidence that would be available in a criminal trial and should be necessary before we stigmatise someone as a criminal and a pedophile (Woody Allen) or as deluded or liar (Dylan Farrow). The best recourse, I think, is to suspend judgment in a case such as this and to avoid public comment. But what you’ve said here is a valuable corrective.

  5. Robert Gregory Browne

    This has to be the most fair-minded post on the matter I have yet seen. I wish it could be read and understood by the lynch mobs on either side. But I fear it won’t be.

    Coming from a legal background, I tend to believe that innocent until proven guilty should be the cornerstone of our lives, not just the law. And because the Allen matter has already been vetted and discharged by the legal community, it only makes sense for us to accept that and move on.

  6. Team Oyeniyi

    It is a little bit like my current investigations. All partner visa marriages are shams the headlines imply. Analysis shows 0.57% are cancelled.

    This particular case is a hornets’ nest of accusations. I was horrified when our own Rolf Harris was arrested. One would never have thought it possible.

    What strikes me as a point in Allen’s “favour” at the moment is that as far as I am aware there are no other accusations against him. Pedophiles are usually serial offenders. One would think others would come out of the woodwork, then or now.

    Equally, while I can understand a 4 y/o being coached, I am not sure a 7 y/o could be. Dylan certainly believes, of that I have no doubt.

    As you say Chrys, we cannot know. I guess I fail that 101 class too, but I was already a repeating student according to some! 🙂

    I think the whole situation incredibly sad.

  7. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

    To be fair, according to my research, the recidivism of sex offenders may be overstated and certainly is in relation to incestuous, opportunistic abuse. I think the fact that Allen has only ever been accused of this single incident is a point in his favour, but it doesn’t negate Dylan Farrow’s claims either. Again. We don’t know.

    1. Team Oyeniyi

      No, we don’t. We likely never will either, Thanks for the information about recidivism. We have so much information about serial offenders, with the Royal Commission particularly, I suppose that does sway the thought processes.

      Excellent look at the problem, Chrys (I forgot to say that before!).

  8. Louella

    “My object is to defend clear, critical thinking”
    You’ve achieved your object, imo. Brilliantly. 🙂

  9. Jewel Phoenix

    Completely unbiased, rational, and how I think also. Trial by media and taking sides is pointless when we cannot know all the facts. Enjoy reading a non-hysterical article!

  10. dandare2050

    This kind of article should be in place of all the mainstream sensational ones. The rabid attitude in the press is very damaging for feminism as it sets up the idea that feminists assume “prove your innocence”. Its not true, as you have just soundly demonstrated.

  11. Shell

    Thank you, thank you. I have also been getting excoriated for even suggesting that I am more inclined in this case to think Mia implanted the memories because of the reasons you brought up here. Frustrating.

  12. Robert Kiser

    Wow, this is an exceptional piece of writing and clear thinking. Definitely the best written and thought-out article on the issue I’ve read.. and I’ve read quite a few now. Well done and thank you.

  13. Andrew Stewart

    This is a very well done essay, and I appreciate the tone. One thing I have read, however, that gives me both pause and questions, has to do with Mia Farrow’s brother, a convicted serial child rapist. Farrow, it has been noted by others, can talk forever about Allen but never likes to discuss her convict brother. Is it either tenable or acceptable to ask whether or not the young girl was indeed assaulted but not by Allen? It would seem quite possible, in my mind, that Farrow could have successfully manipulated her daughter, when she revealed a molestation instance by an uncle, into simply saying it was Woody instead of her uncle? I don’t know the statistical comparison between rates of violence against children committed by step-fathers in comparison to blood-relations, but Allen has been legally cleared twice to adopt children by the New York State legal system, while Uncle Farrow has done hard time. Obviously, this is just too uncomfortable to speculate about, but the issue is important to discuss.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      I’ve published this comment with some reservation. I wasn’t aware that Farrow’s brother had been jailed for child molestation. But, I wonder if further speculation is helpful. I guess anything is possible but absent any other information this theory sounds like a bit of a stretch.

      Still, I guess it highlights the fact that we simply don’t know what Dylan Farrow has suffered – only that she has.

  14. mprical

    Hi! Really nice, well reasoned piece.

    I just thought that you’d be interested to know that Mia has done everything in her in her power, with the help of her mouthpiece Orth, to make Soon-yi out to be, um, very intellectually challenged.
    Here’s a quote from and a link to the 1992 article:

    “Soon-Yi issued her own statement to Newsweek, asserting her independence, savaging Mia, and declaring, “I’m not a retarded little underage flower who was raped, molested and spoiled by some evil stepfather—not by a long shot. I’m a psychology major at college who fell for a man who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Mia.” Soon-Yi declared in writing exactly what Woody had said, that Mia would have been just as upset if he had slept with “another actress or his secretary.”

    Mia’s family were astounded by the statement. “Soon-Yi doesn’t know half those words, what they mean,” one close to them said. Equally astonished was Audrey Seiger, who has a doctorate in learning and reading disabilities and had spent hundreds of hours tutoring Soon-Yi from the sixth grade all the way through high school. When Soon-Yi was in the third grade, her I.Q. tested as slightly below average. She went to Seiger with “very deprived early language development, which carried on throughout the years.” Seiger and Soon-Yi became close, and Soon-Yi worked very hard. “She’s a very typical L.D. kid, very socially inappropriate, very, very naïve,” says Seiger, who is deeply worried about Soon-Yi today. “She has trouble processing information, trouble understanding language on an inferential level. She’s very, very literal and flat in how she interprets what she sees and how she interprets things socially. She misinterprets situations.” Seiger doubts that Soon-Yi could have written the statement to the press. “The words were often exactly the same as Woody Allen’s, if you compare the two,” says Priscilla Gilman, daughter of Yale drama-school professor Richard Gilman and literary agent Lynn Nesbit and an honor student at Yale, who as the longtime girlfriend of Mia’s son Matthew Previn is regarded almost as a daughter in the family.”

    Since that article, Soon-yi has managed to earn a masters from Columbia U.

    Also, there was a very nice article in Time with references to scholarly articles and statistics regarding false abuse accusations in high conflict custody cases.

    My feeling is that Dylan is lying, but I am not a human lie detector (nor a unicorn nor a leprechaun, iykwim). It just kinda bugged me how it seems completely un-PC to pursue the possibility that Dylan is lying, so I did. You can check out my blog, if you are interested:


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