“Judging Woody”

by Sam Buntz

Despite the fact that the Internet grants access to such vast reservoirs of information, it simultaneously permits people to restrict the sources from which they obtain that information—to only read articles from a highly limited and selective number of websites, refusing to see other perspectives or complicate their own viewpoints.  I think I see this tendency asserting itself in the online chatter regarding the recent sexual assault accusations Dylan Farrow publicly made against Woody Allen.

I keep hearing the following opinion expressed: if you don’t have full faith in Dylan Farrow’s accusation, then you believe that women who accuse men of rape tend to be liars.  I think that’s a wholly bizarre conclusion.  The people defending Woody Allen, or suggesting that Dylan’s account might not be the truth, aren’t saying that Dylan is consciously making anything up.  Allen’s defenders, as I understand them, are saying that, in the heat of the separation proceedings between Allen and Mia Farrow, the story about Allen molesting Dylan developed as Mia attempted to find more evidence to prove that Allen was generally a horrible person.

This doesn’t even mean that Mia consciously lied—it just means that, in attempting to look for evidence in favor of Allen’s depravity, she may have repeatedly asked her daughter whether Allen had touched her inappropriately (or whatever), gradually implanting the idea in her seven-year-old daughter’s mind.  After all, the Yale-New-Haven medical team which first investigated the accusation—and which Farrow’s lawyers later attempted to discredit—concluded at the time that Dylan was not molested.  False accusations like this do, I’m told, frequently come up in the midst of divorce or separation cases–so this isn’t an utterly fantastic notion.

Given all that we know about false memories, and the kind of false (or, for that matter, true) accusations that surface during separation and divorce cases, this is not an implausible story, and, at the very least, it needs to be seriously considered.  I’m not personally saying that this is what happened—Allen could very well be guilty.  I’m merely stating that people shouldn’t rush to judgment on Allen before they’ve determined whether his story is coherent or not.  I, for one, think it actually is quite coherent:  I just don’t know if it’s true.

To provide another example: Guns n’ Roses’ front-man, Axl Rose, believes that his father molested him when he was a child.  However, it turns out that Rose’s accusation stems from “past-life regression therapy”—which is a very, very, very unreliable method of obtaining information about the past or about anything else.  Dylan Farrow’s allegations, obviously, don’t involve past-life regression therapy—and I don’t mean to try to discredit them by pointlessly linking them to another, more dubious case.  My point is just that Rose’s accusation seems credible on the surface (and there’s still a chance it might be true, anyway), but when you look at the underlying reasons for it, you discover that it’s not so credible, despite Rose’s sincerity.

The people who are assuming that Allen is guilty of molesting a seven year-old girl because he dated a nineteen year-old girl (who was also his former partner’s adopted daughter), haven’t fully considered Allen’s side of the story, or looked at the other ways false memories can be formed, or attempted to apply them to the case.  This would be a reasonable way of proceeding, given how much time has passed between the initial case and Dylan’s public allegations in the present day.  Asking these questions before, say, comparing Allen to Roman Polanski (who actually admitted to the rape he committed, and is guilty ten times over), would be common sense.  This is clearly quite different from doubting any, all, or most rape accusations, or believing that women are unreliable witnesses—or whatever other rather tenuous arguments bloggers are making about the accusation.

Again, I’m not saying that Allen is innocent.  I don’t even know enough about the history of the accusations to make that judgment—if there’s enough evidence to make it, in the first place.  I perhaps slanted this article towards his side of the story mainly to make my point—there may be good reasons for doubting the conclusions of the Yale New Haven medical team, and time may reveal that Dylan’s accusations have a lot to back them up.  I only object to interpreting the evidence in a superficial way, and making cheap arguments against Allen.

Believe me—I have no special attachment to Woody.  I’m writing this because of the tendency I see on Facebook and the blogosphere to rush to judgment, to refuse to consider different perspectives, and to use a spurious methodology when forming an opinion on a particular issue.  Dylan’s accusations shouldn’t be evaluated entirely in light of  the fact that the vast majority of women who make accusations of sexual assault are telling the truth, with the automatic assumption that Dylan’s accusations must therefore be true, as well.  If such a principle were applied legally, it would destroy the notion of being “innocent until proven guilty” and the general impartiality of the law.

The unique circumstances of the case—the length of time between then and now, the extraordinarily bitter separation proceedings, the possibility of false memories being involved—all need to be considered.  The very complexity of the Internet and the overabundance of information it offers apparently provoke people to retreat into their own, carefully sealed compartments, selecting only the information they want to hear—to actually reduce the level of complexity to which they are exposed.  That’s understandable, but it’s also a very dangerous tendency—injurious for liberal democracy and the notion that we’re a “republic of laws and not men”.  Of course, this is a small instance of that tendency—but, because of the public attention involved, an important one.

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