by Barry Goldstein
The original ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study led by Dr. Vincent Felitti included interviews with over 17,000 middle age and middle class patients of Kaiser Permanente. In a confidential survey 22% of the patients said they had been sexually abused as children. They had no reason or benefit for lying and it is likely some denied sexual abuse out of embarrassment or a variety of defense mechanisms. In other words this is certainly a conservative figure for the percentage of children sexually abused in the United States.
And yet most discussions about child sexual abuse are distorted by the issue of false allegations. There is a substantial group of people lying about child sexual abuse allegations. It is the people who have a financial or personal interest in supporting the myth that women and children often lie about sexual abuse. This group includes the priests and church officials who fought so long and hard to conceal the Catholic Church scandal; Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State administrators who protected him; Richard Gardner who concocted Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) to earn obscene amounts of money and protect pedophiles; the cottage industry of evaluators and lawyers who make their money supporting abusers; “fathers’ rights” organizations that are more concerned with the power and control of abusers than the health and safety of children; judges and court administrators who don’t want to admit how often they have failed to protect children and numerous other perpetrators. And as a letter from Dylan Farrow tells us, it includes Woody Allen. These scoundrels are comfortable accusing others of lying because they have been lying about the frequency of false allegations.
On this planet, we only get one chance at life. One chance at a happy, healthy and productive life. In this country we now know for sure that at least one-quarter of our children must live their only life as victims of child sexual abuse. They not only suffer the unspeakable violation, but the never ending aftermath. As a result of the actions of a predator that we failed to protect them from, the children will suffer more illnesses and injuries throughout their only lives. They will suffer far more physical and emotional pain throughout their one life. They are likely to use a variety of defense and coping mechanisms many of which will bring them still more harm. And their one life is likely to be shorter.
The Saunders’ study found the evaluators; judges and lawyers tend to pay far more attention to mothers’ anger and emotion all out of proportion to what it tells us about their parenting. The mothers see the pain and suffering their children are being put through by abusive fathers and the widespread failure of the courts to protect children. The mothers had been taught since grade school that our courts would protect victims and certainly children. How can they not be angry and emotional? This is their child’s one chance at life. What nerve to tell mothers and children to get over it, cooperate with the abuser, the child needs their (abusive) father, and we don’t believe you, and DON’T DARE BE ANGRY AND EMOTIONAL.
Perhaps the courts need to look in the mirror. They might be able to see that under current practices although mothers make deliberately false allegations of child sexual abuse less than 2% of the time, in 85% of these cases the alleged and really likely sexual abuser is given custody. And there goes the child for years of unspeakable abuse and with it goes the child’s last chance for a happy life. The statistics from court cases and from the ACE study confirm the courts are getting a high percentage of cases wrong and erring on the side of destroying children’s lives. AND YET COURT OFFICIALS SINCERELY BELIEVE THE SYSTEM IS WORKING.
Dylan Farrow Letter
Dylan Farrow is a brave young woman who recently released a letter describing the sexual assault against her by her adoptive father, Woody Allen. Her letter was published on a blog by New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof. This was a major news story and controversy when Dylan was seven-years-old and first revealed her father’s abuse. Shortly thereafter, he revealed a romantic relationship with a 19-year-old girl who was essentially his stepdaughter. They later married.
In her letter, Ms. Farrow described how Allen had engaged in many acts that we would understand as grooming a victim. Dylan tried to hide but he usually found her. She described some of the details of his sexual assault on her that led to her complaint. This resulted in a medical investigation, criminal investigation and custody dispute in which Allen used the common abuser tactic of seeking custody to punish the mother (actress Mia Farrow) and regain control.
The medical investigation at a hospital in Connecticut came to the conclusion that there was no sexual abuse. It is important to consider context in this case and understand that at that time, like today, many professionals do not have the expertise they need to investigate child sexual abuse claims and many professionals believe the myth that women and children frequently make false allegations. Allen sought to promote this myth by immediately claiming that Mia Farrow was pressuring Dylan to lie because of the problems in the relationship between Allen and Farrow. In her letter, Dylan revealed that the enormous pressure created by Allen caused her mother to ask if the allegations were true and told her it would be ok if she needed to recant.
The prosecutor decided not to bring criminal charges based on concerns about how serving as a witness would impact the child. At the press conference announcing the case was being dropped the prosecutor clearly stated that he believed the child. He was severely criticized for this statement and charged with an ethics violation, but it seems ethical for the prosecutor to support the victim and make the point that the lack of prosecution does not mean the allegations are false.
The custody case resulted in a rare successful outcome. Mia Farrow won custody of the three children and Woody Allen was denied any contact. This is an extremely rare outcome in custody cases as there was and still is a strong bias to include fathers in children’s lives. As mentioned before, custody courts rarely believe even true allegations of sexual abuse. Accordingly, the outcome suggests the evidence against Allen was incredibly strong.
Dylan described some of the consequences to her from Allen’s abuse. She said that she cut herself, suffered eating disorders and emotional problems. All of these issues are consistent with being a sexual abuse victim and support the validity of her complaint.
Misunderstanding of Innocent Until Proven Guilty
In her letter, Dylan Farrow discusses that the ambiguity of the outcome led many people to a view of “who can say what happened” and then continue as if nothing was wrong. This is a common problem, particularly in the case of celebrities. There is good reason to believe Kobe Bryant raped the woman, who complained about him, but after typically aggressive legal and public relations tactics, the charges were dropped and a settlement arranged. He has gone back to his old life and is generally treated as if no rape ever occurred.
The public has a fundamental misconception about the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty” that works against victims. This is a basic constitutional right that I fully support. We believe it is important that no one be convicted of a crime and imprisoned if they are innocent. Accordingly we have a standard that the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We are willing to accept the fact that many dangerous criminals will walk free because of the importance of protecting innocent defendants up against the immense power of the government. Even with the protections we see cases in which a defendant’s innocence is demonstrated after many years in jail.
Innocent until proven guilty is an important principle, but it applies only to the government. If there were rumors that a neighbor had molested children, no responsible parent would allow their children to play in the neighbor’s home. The rumors might be completely unfair and untrue, but the potential risk to children is so catastrophic that it would be neglectful for any parent to expose their children to the danger. No reasonable parent would say that the neighbor is innocent until proven guilty so I have to let my children play in his home. The admonition does not apply to the general public, but only to the government.
In the case of Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen, the information went far beyond the rumor stage. We have a credible victim and know that in the context of custody disputes, which applies to this case, less than two percent of sexual abuse allegations are deliberately false. Allen has claimed that the complaint was in retaliation for his romantic relationship with Soon Yi Previn. She is the adoptive daughter of Mia Farrow who at the time shared three children with Woody Allen. In other words she was the equivalent of his stepdaughter. At the very least this relationship raises issues about Allen’s sense of boundaries.
There is no proof that the allegations were false. An investigation at a Connecticut hospital found the allegations to be wrong. The prosecutor, while declining to prosecute said there was probable cause to support the complaint. Perhaps most revealing is that the custody decision gave Mia Farrow custody and denied contact for Woody Allen. Many in the public may not realize how significant this decision is. The custody courts have a huge bias favoring keeping even the most abusive fathers in children’s lives. In cases involving sexual abuse allegations, 85% result in custody to the alleged abuser. The Saunders’ study from the U.S. Department of Justice found that courts do not limit alleged abusers to supervised visitation as often as they should. So for the custody court to deny the father a relationship with his children demonstrates there was strong evidence that the allegations are true. It is important to understand that if the evidence made it 90% likely Allen molested Dylan; this would justify the custody court decision but would also justify the decision not to prosecute criminally.
Much of the public and indeed many professionals do not realize how difficult it is to prove child sexual abuse. Many types of sexual assault do not leave physical or DNA evidence and in other cases the physical proof may be gone by the time the child reveals the assault. Nevertheless, many people expect physical proof or DNA evidence and this alone can create a reasonable doubt in some minds. As the letter from Dylan reminds us, sexual assault is an extremely painful and embarrassing experience. We would not expect an adult rape victim to speak about the worst event in her life without developing a trusting relationship with her therapist and yet many professionals expect children to reveal all the details after very minimal discussion designed to create trust between the child and investigator. In this case it appears that the reluctance of Dylan to speak openly with strangers was used by Allen to try to discredit her complaint.
Children often do not fully understand the significance of what the offender did to them. They may worry that they are at fault and might be punished. Accordingly, it is normal for them to first reveal to the person they most trust and to tell only part of the story in order to gauge the reaction. In this like many other cases the child tells her mother, but when the mother has a dispute with the alleged perpetrator, her involvement is viewed as suspicious. When more information comes out later, this is treated as undermining credibility by those unaware it is a normal response by children.
The underlying problem in this and so many other child sexual abuse cases is that society’s response is terrible. It is not easy to create an atmosphere and response system that allows one-quarter of our children to become victims of sexual assault. The press has to fail to cover scandals as they did with the Catholic Church and Penn State until long after it should have been obvious, and as they continue to do with the custody courts. We maintain the myth that women and children often make false allegations of abuse. As the Saunders’ study demonstrated, this myth results in inadequately trained professionals routinely disbelieving true allegations. The failure to prosecute or even make child protective complaints against abusers encourages their sense of entitlement and permits them to find still more victims as Jerry Sandusky did.
It is the harmful atmosphere, belief in the myth and misunderstanding of innocent until proven guilty that encouraged the public to move on with their lives, give Woody Allen a pass and let him continue to live a life filled with fame and honor. But there is an unacceptable price for giving Allen a pass. In doing so we hurt Dylan and the people who love her. Dylan’s letter demonstrates the pain caused by a Hollywood community that continues to honor Allen for his work seemingly without concern for his treatment of his daughter.
Alec Baldwin, who is specifically mentioned in Dylan’s letter, responded by saying the issue is none of his business. This is unsurprising from someone who has promoted a pro-pedophile theory that seeks to prevent accountability for abusers while destroying the one chance thousands of children had for a good life.
Our belief in innocent until proven guilty must not prevent the public from providing support for victims like Dylan. We have every right to shun Allen for what he did and what we believe he did. I used to enjoy Woody Allen’s movies, but I haven’t seen any since I heard the complaint. When I think of Dylan lying on her stomach in the attic, nothing Allen can produce will ever be funny. The public response obviously matters to Dylan, and that is enough for me, but it really has a far greater importance. Allen’s continued acceptance sends a terrible message to abusers that they can expect to get away with the most horrific behavior.
The message to children is even worse. Your one chance at a good life doesn’t matter. Don’t dare challenge someone wealthy and powerful. Men have the power to use and abuse children’s bodies. So be quiet and don’t dare to complain. If you think this is not the message consider that one of Sandusky’s victims explained why he didn’t come forward sooner. He didn’t think anyone would believe him.
We must believe our children. They lie about other issues but not sexual abuse. We cannot continue to take one quarter of our children, permit miscreants to sexually assault them and deprive them of their one chance for a happy life on this planet. It is a painful and difficult subject, but we cannot continue to hide our eyes and our hearts. We must believe Dylan. Thank you Dylan, for being the voice for so many children who have been silenced and abandoned.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor, co- authored with Elizabeth Liu is designed to train attorneys to present domestic violence cases and was released in April of 2013. Barry can be reached by email from their web site www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com
For more information about the new book, including access to the first approximately 50 pages or to purchase the book go to the publisher’s web site at http://civicresearchinstitute.com/rdv.html Elizabeth Liu and I have convinced our publisher to make available the last section of our chapter about GALs that lists and explains the best practices for GALs in domestic violence cases. You can now download and print this information and share it with your GAL. Everyone is welcome to share this information. I also hope you will check out my new Face book page, Barry Goldsteins Representing the Domestic Violence Survivor. Barry’s web site, www.Barrygoldstein.net is back up and running with new material.