Dylan Farrow, Rape Apologia, & Rape Culture 101

[Content Note: Descriptions of sexual violence in linked article; rape apologia.]

This weekend, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published Dylan Farrow's story of surviving childhood sex abuse perpetrated by Woody Allen, her (then) adoptive father. Farrow's account is difficult to read, terrible, challenging, and brave. Kristof published her story with an introduction, directly below her picture and directly above her first-person account, that included the following: "He deserves the presumption of innocence."

screen cap of Kristof's intro to Dylan Farrow's piece, with quoted phrase highlighted

"He deserves the presumption of innocence" has absolutely no place in an introduction to a survivor's story for this simple reason: "He deserves the presumption of innocence" is fundamentally incompatible with "She deserves to be believed."

Naturally, having made this observation on Twitter (I Storified my tweeted reactions to this story here for those not on Twitter), I got immediate pushback that Kristof was merely making a legal disclaimer. No. It was eminently possible to note that Allen was not charged and not convicted without saying "He deserves the presumption of innocence."

"He deserves the presumption of innocence" writes Allen's victim out of her own story. She needs to presume no such thing. Dylan Farrow does not owe her abuser the presumption of innocence, and yet Kristof asserts to readers that is what Allen deserves, talking right over her, like she isn't even there, in a space between a picture of her face and her own account of being abused.

I would feel deeply betrayed if I agreed to tell my story of surviving abuse only to have it prefaced by the assertion that my abuser "deserves the presumption of innocence." It is profoundly unethical and frankly cruel to undermine a survivor in that way. It is also shameful rape apologia.

I cannot put it any more plainly than this: You are not supporting a survivor if you insert a caveat that effectively amounts to: "Remember, she might be lying."

"He was not convicted" does not function in that way. "He was not convicted" is factual, and also a commentary on a rape culture in which very few rape allegations result in convictions. "He deserves the presumption of innocence," outside of a courtroom, in front of a survivor's story, is not a fact. It is an insidious subversion of a survivor's credibility.

Being disbelieved is a secondary trauma. The suggestion a survivor's lived experience might be a lie is the opposite of support—and to do that under the guise of allyship is particularly gross. Empowering rape apology is not support for a survivor.

The rape apologists were out en masse after publication of Dylan Farrow's account. Many of them cited this article in the The Daily Beast, published a few days earlier under the headline, "The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast." Despite the fact that this piece is being circulated and recommended as an "objective" or "skeptical" or other gaslighting words view of the allegations, it is nothing more than an Allen admirer regurgitating Allen's defense.

The author has said he respects Dylan and Mia Farrow, but just finds their allegations wanting. But the whole Dylan Could Be Lying narrative (of which we were all helpfully reminded by Nicholas Krisof) hinges on the suspicion and accusation that Mia Farrow gave her then 7-year-old daughter the invented story in order to trump Allen in a custody battle. Which is not only the implication she's a revengeful liar, but that it was she who abused her daughter, by filling her head with a story of sexual abuse that didn't happen.

Accusing a mother who believed and advocated for her abused child of being an agent of abuse is unfathomably indecent and inarguably incompatible with having "respect" for her.

And the people spouting this line of bullshit in Allen's defense aren't even intellectually honest enough to admit that that's what they're really saying, that what they're really doing is leveling utterly unfounded allegations of abuse against Mia Farrow, despite the fact her daughter has said that Farrow supported and protected her.

So where are all the defenders who are outraged about "unfounded" (except for Dylan Farrow's lived experience) allegations of abuse against Allen when legitimately unfounded allegations of Farrow are being levied against her? Whoooooops they're the ones making them.

This isn't about any sort of principles. It's about protecting predators, especially when those predators happen to make movies you like.

Here is some Rape Culture 101: Sexual predators can and do make popular art. They exist in every profession. They do not look different from everyone else. They all (or most all) have people in their lives who think they're terrific. They may be genuinely non-harmful to some people in their lives while abusing and exploiting others.

Many sexual predators are super charismatic. That's how they groom victims AND people who will defend them.

Things that protect sex predators from prosecution: Money, power, fame, white straight cis male privilege. Allen has all of these.

You cannot identify a rapist just by looking at him. But you know who can identify rapists? Their victims.

Their victims deserve the presumption of being believed.

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