Dylan Farrow’s recent open letter tells a heartbreaking story that I’ve heard too many times before: girl sexually abused by family or trusted friend of family. I heard these stories in high school, church, and college while growing up: not many stories, but certainly too many.
Looking back on my teens and twenties to those times when someone confided in me that they were sexually abused, I could have responded better. I’m not talking about active abuse. In those cases, I acted and have no regrets. Where I could have done better are cases where the victim confided about past situations, and was no longer in danger. I listened when I should have listened then acted.
Now, at a minimum, I would make sure they have resources, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE, and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. I would also urge them to make contact; they could use my phone, my computer, my name… I’d offer to sit with them while they call. RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) is one of the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organizations. If someone came to me today, I would call RAINN for my own guidance and support. I’d encourage the victim to do likewise.
Bringing experts into a conversation is actually a very adult thing to do. In the workplace, I cannot count how many times I’ve had to take sexual harassment training. Once a year, managers take a class on how to identify sexual harassment and how to properly respond to allegations in the workplace. In California, a manager must report the accusation, by law. Suspicion of child abuse has a similar mandatory reporting requirement in many states. I wish I had training to prepare me for friends or campers admitting they were abused. A step-by-step guide on how to respond to a victim for the best possible outcome would have been much better than my winging it.
I wish Litchfield County state attorney Frank S. Maco had better training before he decided against prosecuting Ms. Farrow’s case. Jake Coyle from Associated Press reports “…in a press conference [Maco] said he believed her adoptive father, Woody Allen had molested Farrow but decided against charging Allen to avoid a traumatic trial for the young girl.” Farrow was seven years old. Did Maco really believe Farrow’s trauma would be over? Trauma doesn’t end with the last act of abuse. It is something the victim lives with for a very long time.
Woody Allen just received the Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. This appears to be the inciting event that caused Ms. Farrow to speak publicly about the 1992 abuse for the first time in her life. Maco’s strategy for protecting Farrow from more trauma by not facing it head on doesn’t seem to be working so well.