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Why neutral is not the logical position on Dylan Farrow’s allegations

dylan farrow and woody allenI have actually lost a lot of Facebook friends over the Woody Allen molestation story, because I side very firmly with Dylan.  I recently shared an article about how what you believe is based on your personal experiences – people who have been mistreated by those in power, especially sexually, tend to believe Dylan; people who have been in power and fear false accusations, tend to believe Woody or claim neutrality.

Michael Hawkins offered this dismissive response to the article:

I stopped reading after the article repeated the same illogic as your last one: Saying we don’t know what happened is not also saying Farrow is lying.  It’s saying we don’t know.  That’s it.  Claiming otherwise is the same as dismissing the importance of evidence, a dismissal of the scientific view of the world.  We don’t know if her claims are true.  We don’t know if Allen’s denials are true.  That’s it.

The question is not whether we know what happened – we cannot know what happened — it’s whether we believe the claims of the victim.  We spend a great deal of time believing things that we don’t know – even in science, we operate off of assumptions and tentative conclusions about the world to be able to test claims.  Oftentimes, “knowledge” just means the claim with the best evidence.  Demands of necessary neutrality in response to a claim of sexual abuse is hyperskepticism, not scientific skepticism.

Michael makes the claim that neutrality is the only logical position.  That would only be correct if we lived in a void, where the rest of the world didn’t exist around the claims being made.  In the same way, legal language is inappropriate when discussing how people who are not judge or jury are forming opinions.  The standard for conviction is necessarily far stricter than the standard for forming rational opinions.  Let us look at the world beyond the “he said, she said.”

Woody Allen has a history of not respecting sexual boundaries and taking advantage of massive power imbalances between himself and his sexual partners – his history with his son’s sister, the child of the mother of his children, is enough to show a complete contempt for appropriate age relationships and the incest taboo.  He also has made jokes about how he has no sexual boundaries and no one would be surprised to find him in bed with several 12-year-olds.

Dylan Farrow, on the other hand, has nothing to gain from sharing this information except the chance of being believed, something that is part of the healing process for abuse victims.  Importantly, belief is all she’s asking for – not remuneration, not penalties for Woody Allen, just that people believe her.  Believing her costs Woody Allen nothing, while not believing re-victimizes her.

There are witnesses on who’ve come forward on both sides.  Those who have eye-witness testimony of inappropriate behavior from Allen to Dylan, and those who claim that Woody would never do something like that and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity.  Eye-witness testimony is imperfect, but it’s significant that there are people besides Dylan who corroborate the story.  There was also an investigation, which was inconclusive.  They were willing to prosecute Allen, but declined because they didn’t want to put Dylan through it.  This speaks to an inability to rule out that it happened, if not evidence that it did.

But even if you think that those who witnessed things and felt the case was tryable should be held in equal weight to those who deny the possibility of abuse and felt Dylan was not being honest, neutrality is still not the appropriate position.  Statistically, false accusations of sexual abuse by children are very rare.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – a rape is not extraordinary, a false accusation is.  Dylan Farrow is making a claim that should only be doubted if there is good evidence that she is lying.  No such evidence exists.  Neutrality is denying the reality of how common abuse is in the world in which we live and how rare false accusations are. The default position, outside of a legal context, is believing the victim.

Furthermore, claiming neutrality is a betrayal of the victim, even if you’re not calling her a liar.  Not believing her, even if you don’t think she’s necessarily lying, is hurting her and not hurting Allen.  From a cost/benefit analysis, extending the benefit of the doubt to Dylan is the most logical conclusion, as it offers the most benefit with the least cost.

I’ve found the response to Dylan’s letter revelatory.  There are many people in the world who value skepticism over humanism; being not wrong over being probably right; being neutral over being kind.  Kind not just to Dylan, but to the many survivors of abuse who are finding it hard to see the cruel treatment of a woman who is bravely coming forward with what happened to her, something many other survivors wish they had the ability to do.  Demanding neutrality from others, many of whom may be survivors of experiences they’ve not shared with you, is neither logical nor kind.

Comments

  1. says

    I actually think “believing” is still the wrong category. It’s too strong, and too much to defend. I prefer “think”…I think it’s likely that WA did what DF says he did, and I think WA’s response then and now has been utterly hateful. But belief is different.

  2. Ashley F. Miller says

    I use “believe” partially because that’s the language of the piece that I link to in the beginning and partially because it is the language of survivors. I understand your discomfort with it.

  3. says

    My BFF is a lawyer who once repesented the family of a 7yo who had been sexually abused. THe perp was not convicted exactly because it is difficult to get suffiicient evidence from a traumatized child if there’s no phyical evidence. The judge said exactly that. He believed the victim, but he could not convict the guy in a court of law.

  4. Parlyne says

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Or, the shorter, more quantitative, Bayesian form of this argument: “If you insist on strict neutrality, you’re using the wrong priors.” If we start with the FBI statistic that only 2-8% of rape/sexual assault accusations are false as the appropriate prior for evaluating the likelihood of the truth of such accusations, the aggregate of case-specific evidence would need to be more than ~20 more likely to result from the scenario of a false accusation than a true one for it to be reasonable to conclude that the accusation is most likely false.

  5. abear says

    Ashley; When you say statistically false reports of sexual abuse of children is very rare you linked to a PDF with a number of studies. Here is a quote from one of those studies:

    On the other hand, the child protection
    workers involved in Trocmé and Bala’s study report the frequency of false allegations in custody
    disputes as 12%, three times the overall rate of false allegati
    ons. They did not differentiate
    coaching from other types of false allegations.
    (Author Abstract)

    As you are probably aware, these allegations were made during the period when Allen and Farrow had become estranged and a custody dispute ensued. Dylan was at a very impressionable age at this time and may have been convinced by her mother to believe that the abuse occurred when it in fact did not.
    Further, the incident was alleged on a day when there were two nannies present that stated that Dylan and Allen were alone for no more than 5 minutes at a time.
    Although the prosecutor found the accusation to be credible the interviewing psychologist did not. Contrary to some reports Allen did not hire the psychologist.
    I don’t believe Dylan (now Malone) is lying when she repeats this allegation, but there is also the possibility she is recounting a false, implanted memory. When people bring up Allen’s dysfunctional behavior it is only fair to consider also how stable and trustworthy Mia Farrow is too.
    Given the information I have seen on this subject I wouldn’t form a belief on this subject one way or another.

  6. Parlyne says

    abear, why not go back to the Trocme & Bala study itself? http://leadershipcouncil.org/docs/Trocme.pdf

    If you look through it, you’ll notice that most of the increase in false allegations overall in custody disputes come from the non-custodial parent; although, sexual abuse allegations are the one exception to that. However, you will also note that false sexual abuse allegations, in this study, did not once originate with the child.

    And, even if we take that 12% number on face value, that’s still a 7:1 ratio in favor of not (overtly, at least) false.

    So, again, as I tried to be clear in my previous comment, holding to the neutral position remains equivalent to claiming that the case-specific evidence weighs heavily in favor of Woody Allen’s version of events.

  7. abear says

    Parlyne; My point about 12% is that it is not “very rare”, it is more like “less than likely”. Also, I did not speculate that it was Dylan that originated the allegation.
    I wouldn’t form an opinion about something like this based on a statistical probability. The facts and circumstances of an individual case are what is most important in my forming an opinion.
    Speaking of statistics, what are the chances someone (Mia Farrow) would be a vocal supporter of convicted child molester (Roman Polanski) and also have her brother recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for child sexual abuse?

    So, again, as I tried to be clear in my previous comment, holding to the neutral position remains equivalent to claiming that the case-specific evidence weighs heavily in favor of Woody Allen’s version of events.

    We disagree here. I take the neutral position because the totality of the evidence isn’t convincing one way or the other.

  8. dwayne stephenson says

    Whether Woody Allen is a child molester or not is a matter of metaphysical fact. Either he did what Dylan claims he did or he didn’t. You can’t do the math, and then just say that Woody Allen is “probably” a pedophile and be satisfied with that. And that’s where the “neutrality” comes from. A part of the epistemological universe we live in is a huge amount of doubt. We can’t confirm things to our satisfaction all the time. As a matter of politics and policy, this may very well be a situation that benefits the powerful and the abusive over the powerless and the abused. But you can’t make it go away just because it isn’t fair.

  9. Jackie, all dressed in black says

    When my kids were still in foster care we were trained by CASA to teach them the proper names for their genitals so that when (not if) they were abused there would be a better chance of a conviction. CASA had seen cases where a child describing their abuse in children’s terms instead of proper anatomical terms was considered enough to cast doubt on the child’s allegations. In the time that I have been a foster parent, I have known of so many kids who could not get justice in a court or even within their own families. For you people who don’t want to believe child sexual abuse is common, I get it. I do. I just don’t care. Your comfortable illusion is harming child victims and it needs to stop. You are not being objective. You are being willfully obtuse.

  10. Parlyne says

    Dwayne, I highly doubt you go around all day steadfastly refusing to hold any beliefs on every single matter about which you don’t have absolute certainty. I’m sure that you, like anyone else, on most issues are fine with the idea of believing whatever seems to best fit the information available at the present and update those beliefs if new information arises. Bayesian statistic is just the formalization of that idea. It tells you what is most likely to be true given the available evidence. I’m not trying to use the math to evaluate anything about what is true. I’m using it to identify what is most reasonable to believe.

    abear, again, if the case-specific information is totally indeterminate, then the general statistics about such cases should determine which side is the more reasonable one to take. Also, asking about things Mia Farrow did and said more than a decade after these accusations were first leveled is not relevant to the evaluation of their credibility and seems more like you’re trying to derail the discussion.

  11. Jon says

    Too bad the law doesn’t use Bayesian priors… or maybe it isn’t so bad. I would tend to believe the accuser, if merely as a practicality that would lead to further investigation. The thrust of this article is essentially horse-track betting and, at the track, if you are not aware of any statistical modelling being done in the box seats, you cannot be blamed for making the best choices given that lack of information. So, ‘the rational you’ can still reserve judgment in this case and not be rightly held out as guilty yourself.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    He (Woody Allen -ed) also has made jokes about how he has no sexual boundaries and no one would be surprised to find him in bed with several 12-year-olds.

    I think this comes close – not there but close -to an admission of guilt on Woody Allen’s part.

    No, we wouldn’t be surprised just disgusted and rightfully angry if that happened – its quite in keeping with Allen’s history and so is Dylan’s account of his behaviour against her.

    I’d love to see Allen arrested for this or punished somehow because he certainly seems to have a major problem and pose a risk to other women. He’s also a complete sleazebag and scumbag.

  13. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @10.Jackie, all dressed in black :

    When my kids were still in foster care we were trained by CASA to teach them the proper names for their genitals so that when (not if) they were abused there would be a better chance of a conviction. CASA had seen cases where a child describing their abuse in children’s terms instead of proper anatomical terms.

    Bloody hell that’s horrific. Awful that that’s the reality. Hope that didn’t happen to them and you got them back quickly.

    Sympathy and virtual hugs if you want them.

  14. says

    Here’s Dylan Farrow herself responding to Woody Allan

    As you are probably aware, these allegations were made during the period when Allen and Farrow had become estranged and a custody dispute ensued. Dylan was at a very impressionable age at this time and may have been convinced by her mother to believe that the abuse occurred when it in fact did not.

    I love the “some evil woman” argument. Because it automatically shifts blame onto the wife/gf in the scenario, making all claims forever “improbable”.
    It’s a classical catch 22: If a man abuses his wife/gf/children and the woman reports this and fights to esure that he is prosecuted and that she and her children are protected she’s just a bitch on revenge trip. If she does not do it it’s clear the allegations are false because if they were true she’d fight to have him removed from their lives.

  15. Edward Gemmer says

    Man, I don’t know. I was about with the OP except for the words of the brother, who says mom was abusive and this never happened. I can’t just ignore that.

  16. Stacy says

    As you are probably aware, these allegations were made during the period when Allen and Farrow had become estranged and a custody dispute ensued.

    Yes, but two years before that (I’m going by the 2013 Vanity Fair article) Allen was in counseling for inappropriate behavior around Dylan. Behavior that AFAIK he never denied.

  17. says

    Man, I don’t know. I was about with the OP except for the words of the brother, who says mom was abusive and this never happened. I can’t just ignore that.

    1. Interestingly, that only appears in that pro-Allan hatchet job with no actual reference
    2. Yep, we should always believe the words of a man who wasn’t there over the words of a woman who was. Funny how Mia and Dylan Farrow are automatically accused of making shit up in order to take revenge on Allan, but Moses Farrow who according to the original source has a bad realtionship with his mother is automatically believed.

  18. Edward Gemmer says

    1. Interestingly, that only appears in that pro-Allan hatchet job with no actual reference

    Well, I saw quotes attributed to him: “Of course, Woody did not molest my sister,” said Moses, who is estranged from Dylan and many of his siblings and is close to Allen and Soon-Yi, as People reported. “She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him.” He also said that on the day of the alleged molest, “there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces. My mother was conveniently out shopping”.

    “I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.”

    He claimed it was not a “happy household” as Mia had “misled the public into believing”. He said his mother demanded obedience and he was “often hit” as a child and that she went into “unbridled rages”.

    2. Yep, we should always believe the words of a man who wasn’t there over the words of a woman who was. Funny how Mia and Dylan Farrow are automatically accused of making shit up in order to take revenge on Allan, but Moses Farrow who according to the original source has a bad realtionship with his mother is automatically believed.

    I don’t know that you have to believe one over the other, but if the idea is that neutrality is wrong here, I’m not sure where it would be right. One thing is for sure – the family dynamics going on here are pretty unusual.

  19. abear says

    Gilliel wrote:

    I love the “some evil woman” argument. Because it automatically shifts blame onto the wife/gf in the scenario, making all claims forever “improbable”.
    It’s a classical catch 22: If a man abuses his wife/gf/children and the woman reports this and fights to esure that he is prosecuted and that she and her children are protected she’s just a bitch on revenge trip. If she does not do it it’s clear the allegations are false because if they were true she’d fight to have him removed from their lives.

    Here’s the real catch22: If a man is accused of abuse he is automatically guilty because accusers never lie.
    Mia Farrow swore under oath that her son Satchel (now Ronan) was the biological son of Woody Allen at the custody hearing, but later claimed he was the son of Frank Sinatra( who was 74 at the time of conception and married to Barbara Sinatra).
    Even so, taking the neutral position you don’t automatically blame either side, to say it “automatically shifts blame” is false. If you place blame on one side or the other you are not taking a neutral position. If you doubt me look at the dictionary definition of neutral.
    If the default position is believe the accuser than you must believe PZ Myers is a rapist/ abuser, after all, he has recounted more than once that he was accused in the past (he has said falsely).

  20. abear says

    Jackie wrote:

    February 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm (UTC -5)

    When my kids were still in foster care we were trained by CASA to teach them the proper names for their genitals so that when (not if) they were abused there would be a better chance of a conviction.

    WTF? Did you mean to write “when not if”? Are you saying that the officials or whoever the CASA are believe that 100% of children are sexually abused?

  21. theoreticalgrrrl says

    @abear

    Allen tried to sue for custody of the kids AFTER Dylan said she was abused by her father. He did it in response to the allegation. The allegation didn’t happen during a custody dispute. And why would Allen want custody of these kids that he supposedly had nothing to do with and didn’t live with and wasn’t a father figure to?

  22. says

    Here’s the real catch22: If a man is accused of abuse he is automatically guilty because accusers never lie.

    Can I have that straw? It makes good bedding for our rabbits.
    Again, you’re showing your true colours, or lack of intellectual capacity, or honesty, or all three of them.

  23. gwen says

    Am I the only one who finds it extremely creepy and alarming that a man who has difficulty with sexual boundaries adopted 2 GIRLS with Soon-Yi?

  24. says

    On the principle of believing victims. I always take as a natural default position that they are telling the truth and only two things might compel me to change my mind. And one of them is notoriously unreliable so the error bar is set very high indeed. The vast majority of sexual assault claims are truthful anyway. Not all but neither would I expect them to be. But I automatically believe all victims unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This should also be the natural default position for all. Sad that it is not always however

  25. Axxyaan says

    I find this piece a bit confusing. Because you first talk about believing but then at the end you talk about extending the benefit of the doubt as a result of a cost/benefit analysis.

    But if you believe someone, you don’t need to extend them the benefit of the doubt, you then simply believe them. Extending the benefit of the doubt, is what you do when you have doubts.

    Now asking me to believe something is futile. What I believe or not, is not a choice. I can read and listen to various argumentations and these will have their influence but at the end I can only notice in which direction and how strongly my convictions lean, I can’t choose that.

    But I can still extend Dylan the benefit of the doubt, even if I am not convinced. That doesn’t even need to contradict extending the benefit of doubt to Allen. And when these two do contradict, making a cost/benefit analysis, as to make the choice that minimizes the likely harm that will be done, can still be seen as being neutral.

  26. says

    I think Ophelia got it right in post number one. The correct terminology is think and not believe. To believe something is to regard it as true regardless of evidence whereas think is a more flexible term as it implies or suggests the possibility of doubt or suspicion. Now this may sound like semantics but it is important one is as precise as possible when explaining oneself. And especially so when the subject matter is as serious as this. However having said all that it would still seem wrong – to me at least – to just say you think a victim of sexual assault is telling the truth as that is not as certain as saying you believe they are telling the truth. Although for me ultimately the important thing is in knowing that I would never automatically choose not to believe a victim of sexual assault now unless it was provable. Part of the reason why conviction rates for rapes are so low – at least here in the United Kingdom – is because juries are specifically requested not to convict unless they can prove it beyond reasonable doubt which is a bar set way too high. They should be allowed to convict on actual probability instead

  27. scenario says

    Is not being neutral the same as taking a side like this is some kind of sporting event?

    I lean very heavily towards believing Dylan Farrows but looking at all the evidence, I still have a fair amount of doubt. I feel comfortable saying I believe Dylan Farrows but I don’t feel comfortable calling Woody Allen pond scum. If asked about Woody Allen’s guilt, I’d say something like, I’m pretty sure he’s probably guilty but I’m not totally sure.

    It seems like in situations like these, people are forced to take sides. If you take Dylan’s side you have to trash Woody. If you take Woody’s side, you have to trash Dylan. I don’t want to trash either side. While I lean towards Dylan, I don’t have enough confidence that that side is right to feel justified in trashing Woody Allen.

  28. jana says

    It happens very seldom to me that someone writes exactly what I think. You just have, Ashley. For the second time. If you lost many FB friends, you have at least gained one – me.
    Thanks for writing such a brilliant and sensitive piece.

  29. Jordan Kimball says

    stupid feminist. How quickly they are to jump to conclusions and make themselves look like fools. Why don’t they stop pretending to be skeptics and go back to the kitchen

  30. Jordan Kimball says

    But then again I guess fembots will never understand the principles of skepticism. They are to busy getting offend to think. Guess what Ashley, you don’t know what happened so that means you shouldn’t feel strongly one way or the other. That simple concept might be a little hard for you to understand though since you are too busy hating men to think rationally

  31. Edward Gemmer says

    But then again I guess fembots will never understand the principles of skepticism. They are to busy getting offend to think. Guess what Ashley, you don’t know what happened so that means you shouldn’t feel strongly one way or the other. That simple concept might be a little hard for you to understand though since you are too busy hating men to think rationally

    This reminds me to queue up Troll Hunter on Netflix

  32. eddie says

    It’s not just Woody. All those who (now claim to have) witnessed his abuse, but said, did nothing at the time, are complicit. His accessories to abuse should also be jailed, no? The conspiracy of silence facilitates child abuse, no?

    Ande no mealy-mouthed excuses about being too scared to speak out. The watergate and pentagon papers leakers might have ben scared to speak out.

  33. nathanaelnerode says

    Obviously one can’t be sure, but I’m very strongly inclined to believe Dylan Farrow due to not only the babysitter testimony, but also the character evidence against Woody Allen. It seems like he may have an actual mental-health problem with pedophilia. The last woman remotely his age who he dated seems to have been Louise Lasser.

    Woody Allen needs to be kept away from chidren. I feel sorry for him, rather than angry. Born in 1935… a childhood where he was subject to physical abuse, at *least* at school, and quite possibly from his parents… and never had a healthy attitude about sex. His position and age means he never got any real help.. Freudian psychiatrists were what he got — which is extraordinarily unhelpful, given the weird sexual aspects of Freudian theory. His other options in the 1950s weren’t great, though he might have been better off with an Adlerian therapist. Then he arrived at the messed-up “sexual revolution”.

    I know he’s still alive but it feels like I’m writing about a figure from the distant past. He was born in 1935. The world was different, in a bad way.

    From the link: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/02/woody-allen-and-young-girls-a-history.html
    “There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow’s house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan.”

    This seems bizarre to a modern reader; why would Mia Farrow keep dating someone under those circumstances? She clearly has pretty bizarre personal issues. But Mia Farrow is from a previous generation, and this didn’t seem entirely crazy to people of her generation. She married three men all of whom were a lot older than her, and the first of whom (Sinatra) has a bad reputation as a rapist. She defended *Polanski*, who drugged a 13 year old and raped her, and thought that this was “consensual”.

    I seriously think that those of us brought up in the US after the social change in the 1970s have no idea how odd the ideas in older people’s heads are.

    And Allen is 10 years older than Farrow. Lewis Carroll’s behavior seems seriously creepy and inappropriate to us today, and was definitely not appreciated by all of the young girls he was photographing at the time, but it was unfortunately not that weird for men of the Victorian period, and it doesn’t seem *malicious*.

    At this point, the 1950s are almost as alien to me as the Victorian period, and the 1970s are pretty weird too. The 1930s are a little more comprehensible, but not that much.

    I just remember reading what the women who were on the set of the original Star Trek said about William Shatner. He genuinely didn’t realize at the time that his behavior was unacceptable, because of the way he’d been brought up; he has since apologized; and on the whole, they forgive him.

    I can’t consider Woody Allen to be an innocent like Shatner, but I do feel like we’re looking at a fossil, an artifact from a different era. Nobody should ever let him near children, though.

  34. devilsadvocate says

    If her biography is to believed, that Woody Allen was undergoing counseling for “inappropriate behavior” with her daughter while the two of them (Farrow and Him) were together, then she’s just as responsible for whatever abuse I’m supposed to believe happened. Frankly, I don’t believe her because, and only because of that. If I felt anyone I was dating was engaging in inappropriate behavior with a child that I had from a previous partner – she’d be out the door in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t wait for therapy or anything else – gone.

    Because this would be the response of any decent parent, I think she’s a liar.

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