In a February 1, 2014 “Open Letter” to the New York Times, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, reignited a media firestorm with the allegation that she was sexually abused by Allen when she was seven years of age. The abuse reportedly occurred in a closet-like attic of the famed Hollywood couple’s Connecticut home. Dylan reportedly told Farrow about the abuse on August 5, 1992 during a period when Allen/Farrow were embroiled in a bitter divorce proceeding.
In 1991, according to media reports, Farrow began to suspect that Allen was romantically involved with her other adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn who was twenty years of age at the time. Farrow began divorce proceedings against Allen after she discovered nude photos of Soon-Yi in his home in February 1992. The Allen/Soon-Yi affair created a media circus around the divorce proceedings which became a media maelstrom after the alleged abuse of Dylan became known.
The question then, as it is now, was whether Dylan Farrow fabricated the abuse allegation. Allen, his attorneys, and a legion of supporters claimed Farrow concocted the story. Allen’s attorneys filed for full custody of the couple’s three children immediately after the abuse allegation surfaced, charging that Farrow was an unfit mother. As part of the custody dispute, a full-blown civil hearing was held to determine custody of the children. Durinh this hearing, the presiding judge heard conclusions drawn from an investigation and report by a medical team from Yale-New Haven clinic.
At the May 1993 custody hearing, the lead doctor of the medical team testified that Dylan “either invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home or that it was planted in her mind by her mother”. The judge presiding over the hearing, however, was not convinced, saying the evidence did not conclusively prove there was no sexual abuse. Four months later, after the police concluded their investigation, Connecticut State Attorney Frank Maco announced he would not pursue criminal charges against Allen even though he had “probable cause” to do so, because he wanted to spare Dylan from having to testify in court. Media reports say Farrow influenced the official decision not to prosecute.
We don’t know who is lying here. All we know is that the demarcation line has been drawn once again between Allen’s supporters and the “survivors of sexual abuse” advocates. Our dog in this fight is the need to respond to the so-called “child sexual abuse experts” who seek every opportunity to foster the myth that children never lie about sexual abuse.
The most these sex abuse “experts” will concede to is that somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of allegations of child sexual abuse are false, and these, they will say, mostly occur in divorce/custody cases. Put simply, they feel children have no reason to lie and the allegation in itself is sufficient evidence to support a conviction. That belief is not only preposterous but flies in the face of study after study reporting a much higher percentage of false child sexual abuse allegations.
For example, in 2012 the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that in 2011 child protective services in the United States received 3.4 million referrals, representing 6.2 million children. 78.5 percent of the referrals involved neglect, 17.6 percent involved physical abuse, and 9.1 percent involved sexual abuse. Ensuing CPS investigations could only substantiate 19 percent of those referrals. That means 81 percent of the allegations were either false or lacked credible supporting evidence.
Studies from respected medical journals place the percentage of sexual abuse in the area of maltreatment of children to be from 6 to 8 percent. In 1994 when the flames of the Allen/Farrow child sexual abuse allegations was still simmering, the Minnesota-based Journal for the Institute for Psychological Therapies reported that “we are now learning that children can be manipulated into supplying dramatic testimony of sexual abuse and that in most cases the accusation originates not with the child but with the mother.”
The IPT Journal added most of the allegations of child sexual abuse occurred “in nasty divorce made nastier by a custody fight. It is now so common that it has received scholarly attention and its own acronym, S.A.I.D. (Sexual Allegations in Divorce). The consensus is that in ‘S.A.I.D. syndrome’ cases the number of such allegations increased so rapidly – up from 7 to 30% in the eighties – that scholarly team called it an ‘explosion.’ Others, noting how often the guilt of the accused was assumed, used the word ‘hysteria’ and searched for analogies in the Salem and McCarty witch hunts.”
We strongly feel it is necessary to consider the “S.A.I.D syndrome” as it existed during the time of the Allen/Farrow divorce proceedings when assessing Dylan Farrow’s two-decade old allegations. The evidence and literature existing at the time of the outcry demanded that the 7-year-old child’s allegations be seriously scrutinized for accuracy. As the IPT Journal noted in 1991, Dr. Melvin Guyer, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, reported that “in highly contested custody cases where the allegation [of sexual abuse] is made, a number of researchers have found the allegations to be false or unsubstantiated in anywhere from 60 to 80% of those cases.” That same year another “investigative team” examined 200 of these kinds of cases and found that about three-fourths of them had been “adjudicated as no abuse.” Three years earlier a study by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts found that child sexual abuse allegations in divorces were false one-third of the time.
That evidence is as relevant today at it was in the 1990s. It has not been seriously refuted. False sexual abuse allegations by children ensnared in divorces by their parents was a prominent reality in the 1990s and remains so today.
On February 4, three days after Dylan Farrow’s open letter appeared in the Times, attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz appeared on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live, Rewind” to lend credence to Dylan’s abuse allegations. It should be noted that Dershowitz has a vested interest in this case as he was involved in it on behalf of Mia Farrow in the 1990s. The professor told Piers that he had no reason to “disbelieve” Farrow’s allegations because “what they told me 20 years ago is exactly what was written in the letter [to the Times].”
Dershowitz then proceeded to blast Stacey Nelkin, a former girlfriend of Allen who appeared on the program in his defense, saying that her defense was “outrageous” and “just wrong.”
We find Dershowitz’ position ironic considering statements made by a prosecutor regarding a wealthy Brooklyn rabbi named Baruch Lebovits, who Dershowitz represented as part of the Rabbi’s legal team, and who was convicted and sentenced to 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison in 2010. The rabbi was convicted based on the testimony of a 22-year-old man who said he was abused when he was six years old by the rabbi. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes defended his decision to prosecute Lebovits but added that while “child abuse has to be prosecuted vigorously … we also have to be careful about false complaints.”
WE agree. Prosecutors evaluate cases of child sex abuse with extremely seriousness and often err on the side of prosecution. The Brooklyn district attorney chose to prosecute Lebovits while the Connecticut Attorney General declined to prosecute Allen. Those two facts, along with the Yale-New Haven conclusions that the allegations lacked merit, make Dershowitz’ public ridicule of Nelkin’s defense of Allen seem petty and spiteful—much like Dylan Farrow’s open letter submitted on the heels of Allen’s latest Oscar nomination for his widely acclaimed Blue Jasmine.