27 July 2015

On Woody Allen, ignorance, and degrees of certainty.

Despite having previously avoided getting involved in debates about Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow, I made a series of tweets on the subject earlier today, in response to a Facebook post that got retweeted into my timeline. Teju Cole's general remarks about rape culture are on point, but they're undermined by his characterization of Allen as someone who's obviously, undeniably guilty, and about whom, Cole suggests, nothing should henceforth ever be written without acknowledgement of "what [he's] done." I observed that a reasonable doubt exists in Allen's case that is simply impossible in Bill Cosby's, and I maintain that. In the course of arguing with some folks, however, I also discovered that one of my beliefs about the Allen case—viz., that in order for him to be guilty, he must be a pedophile—was erroneous. And I want to apologize more formally for my ignorance on that score. (Though I will then destroy any goodwill that said apology may engender by questioning the value of automatically believing all accusations.)

I've never held a firm opinion regarding Allen's guilt or innocence. My position, dating back to 1992, when the story first broke, is "I have no idea." As the years passed, however, and no additional charges or even vague rumors surfaced—and as Allen's marriage to Soon-Yi Previn unexpectedly endured—I did begin to lean slightly toward the idea that maybe he didn't do it. For me, the most compelling argument in favor of his innocence was one that he articulated himself in his op-ed piece last year:

"After all, I was a 56-year-old man who had never before (or after) been accused of child molestation. I had been going out with Mia for 12 years and never in that time did she ever suggest to me anything resembling misconduct. Now, suddenly, when I had driven up to her house in Connecticut one afternoon to visit the kids for a few hours, when I would be on my raging adversary’s home turf, with half a dozen people present, when I was in the blissful early stages of a happy new relationship with the woman I’d go on to marry — that I would pick this moment in time to embark on a career as a child molester should seem to the most skeptical mind highly unlikely."

Now, some of that may be factually inaccurate. It's been reported that concerns about Allen's inappropriate behavior with Dylan Farrow had been voiced prior to the Previn meltdown. But the general point—what is the likelihood that Allen managed to hide all evidence of being a pedophile until he was in his mid-'50s (no, Manhattan does not count), and then never abused anyone again that we know of?—seemed to me persuasive. Everything I'd ever read about pedophilia characterized it as a deep-seated illness, and the crimes it inspires as a horrible compulsion. Pedophiles are generally considered incurable, and most are recidivists. If Allen were guilty of molesting Farrow, wouldn't we likely have heard about other such incidents? Doesn't the fact that none have surfaced in the past 23 years cast doubt on the sole allegation directed toward him?

As it turns out, no. What I didn't know until today, never having read up on the subject in any detail, is that a hefty percentage of child sexual abuse is committed by people who are not truly pedophiles. They're known as situational offenders, and they generally prey on their own children or other relatives. Most of their sexual relationships are consensual, with other adults; they're not irresistibly attracted to small children, as pedophiles are. So it's entirely possible that Allen may have molested Farrow and nobody else. I didn't know what I was talking about, and I'm sorry to have spouted misinformation. Doesn't mean I now think Allen is guilty, but I've at least swung back to "I have no idea."

All of that's Ed, the notion that one is contributing to rape culture if one doesn't believe Dylan Farrow—which is to say, if one professes not to know whether or not she's telling the truth when she says Allen molested her—troubles me. I absolutely believe that she believes she's telling the truth. She is highly unlikely to be lying. And I understand why it's important that we as a society make it our default response to believe an accusation (though balancing that against the presumption of innocence, which is equally important, is a tricky business). But anybody who thinks it's impossible for a small child to falsely accuse an adult of sexual abuse must be too young to recall the hysteria of the '80s and '90s, which culminated in the utterly insane McMartin preschool trial. There are numerous documented cases of people whose lives were destroyed by their own children when the kids reported crimes that did not happen, but which they (the kids) genuinely believed had happened. It's disturbingly easy to implant false memories even in an adult, as numerous studies have shown; small children are even more suggestible. Is that what happened with Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen? I have no idea. But unlike some of the people who argued with me on Twitter today, I can't reject the possibility out of hand on ideological grounds. And in the absence of any truly compelling evidence of Allen's guilt, which to my knowledge does not exist, I submit that it's overreaching to complain that a profile of Allen that doesn't address the allegation constitutes destructive rape culture. No doubt Teju Cole would call this paragraph a case of a man "[wading] in with stupid explanations and caveats and distractions." I would call it striving to remain objective.

1 comment:

wug said...

I have exactly your same take on this subject.