The court of public opinion is not a substitute for an investigation and trial into the guilt or innocence of anyone for any crime or misdemeanor. Journalists, commentators and bloggers are hardly an alternative to shed light on whether or not a sexual assault on a seven year old took place in an attic
Twenty years on the allegation against Woody Allen duly reemerged when Dylan Farrow’s open letter was posted detailing her personal account and how she felt about Woody Allen being honoured at the Golden Globes ceremony (above video).
when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away.
Woody Allen responded pointing out he had been exonerated from assault:
most likely a vulnerable, stressed-out 7-year-old was coached by Mia Farrow. This conclusion disappointed a number of people. The district attorney was champing at the bit to prosecute a celebrity case, and Justice Elliott Wilk, the custody judge, wrote a very irresponsible opinion saying when it came to the molestation, “we will probably never know what occurred.”
The “we will never know what happened”, refrain is playing out loud and clear, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty vanishing as a maxim as commentators pile in. Operation Yewtree, in the wake of Jimmy Savile revelations of mass child abuse in the UK, has left a feeling of “there is no smoke without fire.” With longtime soap actor Ken Roach being found not guilty of raping teenage girls we hopefully realize why the presumption of innocence is not just an important legal concept but an ethical one too.
In Dylan V Woody we are by contrast left with trial by media. Remember this if one facet of this whole story sinks in from Dylan’s response to her father:
Finally, the Connecticut State prosecutor found “probable cause” to prosecute, but made the decision not to in an effort to protect “the child victim”, given my fragile state.
As the Connecticut State Prosecutor explains here:
But in a controversial move, state’s attorney Frank S. Maco announced in 1993 that while he found “probable cause” to prosecute Allen, he was dropping the case because Dylan was too “fragile” to deal with a trial. Mia agreed with the decision, he said.
Dylan was “traumatized to the extent that I did not have a confident witness to testify in any court setting, whether that’s a closed courtroom or an open courtroom,” Maco recalled to PEOPLE last fall after Dylan spoke out to Vanity Fairabout the alleged molestation.
A Manhattan judge had already awarded Mia full custody of adopted children Dylan, Moses and biological son Satchel (who later changed his name to Ronan), and barred Allen from any visitation with Dylan in the custody case, which had exploded after Allen’s affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi, then about 20, was revealed.
Allen, who vehemently denied the charges, lambasted Maco for saying that there was “probable cause,” saying he had no opportunity to defend himself. His complaints led to disciplinary charges against Maco, which were eventually dropped.
Maco stands by his decision. Dylan’s recent openness “does not change anything about my feelings as to the correctness of my words and actions back in ’92 and ’93,” he said last fall. “I had to first and foremost consider the child.”
Dylan is now in her late twenties – is there a case to be made for prosecution now if there ever was one? The media circus will continue as none experts try to analyse motives, family traumas and pop psychology as explanations of what must have happened in the Farrow household. By not exposing a child to a judicial ordeal, with Marco making a probable prosecution comment, we have this ongoing story which will never go away despite Allen being able to adopt children, and make movies which win awards with takings at the box office.
If we try to speak of truth, the one that is undeniable whatever did or did not happen in an attic twenty odd years ago – a seven year old was let down. We are left with the media trying to tell us who was responsible and culpable for that, let alone guilt or otherwise
Choosing whether to watch a Woody Allen film is the least of our troubles. We cannot allow ourselves to only assume someone is innocent having gone through the criminal justice system to be proven not guilty. That is a whitewashing of any form of justice if we are guilty till proven otherwise. That is why the columnists as defense or prosecutor in the court of opinion is a miscarriage for both Dylan and Woody – plus it will never lead to closure for us.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog