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February 11, 2014

BEAM: In the limelight

— Almost every media outlet in the nation has discussed actor, writer and director Woody Allen recently, and it hasn’t been for his movies.

On Feb. 1, columnist Nicholas Kristof posted an open letter on his New York Times blog from Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. In the note, Farrow accused Allen of sexually molesting her over a train set in their second floor attic when she was just 7 years old.

Law enforcement officials 21 years ago investigated the claims, but no charges against Allen were filed. The letter published earlier this month was the first time Farrow, 28, came forward publicly with her story.  

On Friday, Allen responded with an op-ed column of his own in the Times that denied the allegations and, furthermore, placed blame on his ex-partner Mia Farrow for essentially brainwashing her children into believing the abuse took place. Through a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Dylan Farrow countered Allen’s rebuttal saying, “I have never wavered in describing what he did to me. I will carry the memories of surviving these experiences for the rest of my life.”

Strong emotions have been roused in the public regarding the reporting of this case. Allegations of sexual abuse claw at the very heart of many Americans, especially to the millions who have experienced it firsthand.

Yet, reader comments on the articles have been varied with both supporters of Dylan Farrow and Allen posting. Journalists, too, have weighed in on the claims. Businessweek writer Paul M. Barrett quipped in a Feb. 8 article “We — the thinking public — don’t need to know the truth.”

Hold on there, Mr. Barrett. Actually, as with all allegations of childhood sexual abuse, we as a society do need to know the truth. The problem is that sometimes we can’t.

Like so many childhood molestation cases, Dylan Farrow’s accusations are hard to prove. That doesn’t make them untruthful. Crimes like these aren’t always easy to prosecute. Children, at times of the abuse, rarely demonstrate physical symptoms.

When, by chance, they are apparent, the physical evidence may only exist up to 72 hours after the abuse occurred. Since roughly 10 percent of all molestation cases are prosecuted let alone exposed, most adult survivors don’t have the physical proof needed to back up their claims.

Wait a second. What about the other evidence like emotional distress caused by the abuse? While the psychological scars can be just as telling, they don’t always hold up in court. Without a confession from the perpetrator, the debate then becomes a he said-she said, much like we are witnessing with Farrow and Allen.

All this makes it harder for victims to come forward. Not only must you deal with the threats by the abuser and subsequent feelings of shame, but the lack of definitive proof as well can weigh on a survivor. Due to this, some people will question the credibility of the accuser.

And while a few accusations do prove to be false, studies show the preponderance of claims are verifiable. Author K.C. Faller in his book “Child Sexual Abuse: An Interdisciplinary Manual for Diagnosis, Case Management, and Treatment” stated that only 1 to 5 percent of the sexual abuse reports by children are later found to have been fabricated.

So, the question remains, why should the average Jane care about the ongoing back and forth between Allen and Farrow?

Because the ramifications of molestation extend far beyond the families’ affected, overflowing into the larger society.

Survivors face increased chances of suffering from mental disorders, including anxiety and depression; not to mention a greater propensity of having sex at a younger age and with more partners, which results in a greater likelihood of becoming a teenage parent.

Even if you weren’t molested as a kid, you are still quite literally paying for the consequences of others’ abuse. In fact, this past January the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found the average lifetime financial costs (such as loss of productivity and health care costs) per a maltreated child was $210,012, making the acts of abuse comparable to other major health concerns like strokes and diabetes.

As of press time, the allegations remain at the forefront of the media’s attention. That, for once, is a good thing. Childhood sexual abuse survives in the shadows. Dylan Farrow’s story has forced it into the spotlight. To her courage, I give thanks.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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