If Emma Brockes’ account in the Guardian is to be believed, Diane Keaton spoke those words with a broad, unflappable smile on her face. The “friend” in question is, of course, Woody Allen. “Believe” here refers to a calm, level denial of the damning, disturbing allegations of childhood sexual abuse brought against Allen by his daughter Dylan Farrow.
The words are upsetting, to be sure. They are made even more upsetting by the obvious power imbalance between Keaton and Farrow. Keaton is a well-established, multi-millionaire superstar. Farrow was seven years old when the alleged abuse took place. Today, she is a young woman in her twenties – publicly nameless, faceless, and voiceless until last year, when she penned an open letter detailing her experiences for Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times blog.
As Farrow wrote in her letter, Keaton is neither the first nor the only Hollywood icon to leap to Allen’s defense. While Farrow grappled with guilt, post-traumatic fear of intimacy, disordered eating, and self-harm, actors and critics fêted Allen. “All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye,” wrote Farrow. “Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong.” Farrow singles out Keaton, along with a bevy of Allen’s other leading ladies, accusing them of having protected Allen through their silence.
“You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton,” Farrow wrote. “Have you forgotten me?”
The answer, according to Keaton, is an emphatic yes.
“I didn’t know [Dylan],” Keaton told Brockes. “I saw her maybe three times. I didn’t know her. I was never friends with Mia [Farrow, Dylan’s mother] – I was friendly.”
There’s something specifically jarring about this. Keaton insists that she “didn’t know” the seven-year-old girl, but she’s proud to declare herself a friend to that girl’s seventy-eight-year-old alleged molester. She loves him. She believes him.
If only this were an isolated incident. If only the burden of proof didn’t constantly and consistently fall on victims of sexual assault and rape. If only it were universally acknowledged that the only appropriate and reasonable response to a girl’s account of sexual abuse is to believe her.
Allen may be protected by his awards, his cult of personality, and widespread adoration of his work – God knows I once counted Annie Hall among my favorite movies – but, really, not much differentiates him from your average alleged predator. An accused predator can deny the allegations all he wants. He can throw as many counter-allegations as he wants at his accusers. He will be believed without question, and the woman who accused him will be further invalidated and condemned.
A week after Farrow took to the Times, Allen penned a Grey Lady op-ed as well calling her allegations “ludicrous” and insisting that “any rational person” would see her account as “a ploy” and repeatedly attacking both Dylan’s integrity and her mother’s. He couldn’t possibly have molested his daughter, he wrote; Dylan is merely “a vulnerable child” indoctrinated by “a strong mother to hate her father.” For many, Allen’s screed was the final word in this “debate.”
Why are so many so ready to tar victims of rape and sexual assault as liars? What could a woman possibly stand to gain from coming forth with an allegation of abuse? Survivors of assault are discredited at every turn. They are ostracized. They are often isolated from family and friends. When the accused is a Hollywood luminary like Allen, the list of dire consequences only swells: Farrow faces continued international media scrutiny, not to mention the ire of legions of Allen’s famous colleagues and devout fans. She faces handwaving from stars like Keaton, who called Allen her friend and Farrow a liar, and did it in an international media outlet with a broad smile on her face.
Farrow doesn’t deserve this. No victim of rape and sexual assault deserves this, and Keaton’s comments only illustrate how desperately we need to dismantle a culture that protects alleged predators and questions the honesty of their victims.
Last year, a “men’s rights” group in Edmonton papered the city in posters that loudly proclaimed: “Just because you regret a one-night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime. Don’t be that girl.”
The campaign was a kind of evil parody of the Don’t Be That Guy poster campaign, which was sponsored by a variety of Edmonton community groups to educate men about consent. These posters urged men to look after intoxicated and unconscious women, and not to initiate sex without vocal, hundred-proof consent. The men’s rights’ group’s concern with this message? That it supposedly “frames all men as potential sexual predators.” The appropriate response, in their mind? To frame all women as potential liars.
The idea that women lie about being raped and sexually abused is deeply ingrained in our cultural perceptions of abuse and victimhood.
It is, empirically, a complete and utter falsehood.
According to a 2009 report by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, “when… methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false [sexual assault] reports begin to converage around 2-8%.” Says Joanne Archambault, the former sex crimes unit supervisor who authored the report, “[False reports] are not a problem. They happen, but they’re not a problem.” A former sexual assault detective for the Edmonton Police, interviewed about the “don’t be that girl” posters, estimates that in his nearly five years of time on the force, he only dealt with one false accusation.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: when a woman discloses that she has been sexually assaulted, believe her. Even if her alleged abuser is someone you know and trust. Especially if this is the case, actually, because abusers count on the support of friends to boost their own credibility and proclaim their innocence. If we want to curb child sexual abuse, we must believe those who are courageous enough to come forward about their experiences.
There are a million Dylan Farrows, and the scorn of Allen’s Hollywood coterie is only holding them back.