What you have to believe, to believe Woody Allen’s version

Recently I described what you need to believe about Woody Allen to in order to believe he molested Dylan Farrow. Today I’m considering the other side: what you need to believe in order to believe Allen’s version of events. Namely, that Mia Farrow coached Dylan to believe she was molested by Allen, and that this brainwashing has held for twenty-eight years. Once again, I’ll be relying on the facts established in court.

The mechanics of the plot

Before the alleged abuse incident, Allen was already in therapy for his unhealthy fixation on Dylan which involved his ignoring the other children when she was around, following her everywhere, etc. Mia Farrow therefore had a standing order for the household employees that Dylan was never to be left alone with Allen. The alleged abuse took place on a day when Farrow and her friend Casey Pascal were out shopping, but at the home were: Pascal’s three children, Alison Strickland, a French tutor, the baby sitter, Dylan, Satchel and Allen. The babysitter would later testify she had lost track of Allen and Dylan for a while, but didn’t tell Farrow about this until Dylan had alleged abuse. Ms. Strickland also testified that she had seen Allen kneeling in front of Dylan on the couch with his face in her lap.

For Allen’s version of this to be true, Farrow would have had to see in Allen’s fixation on Dylan an opportunity to frame him for molestation. She would have had to persuade the babysitter either to give Allen a window of time alone with Dylan but testify otherwise, or to lie flat out about Allen having been alone with Dylan (which would have been trickier because then one of the many witnesses at the house might well have had Allen in their sight the entire time). She also would have had to persuade Strickland to tell the odd story about Allen’s face in Dylan’s lap. I call the story “odd” because it’s not how most people imagine sexual molestation happens – they imagine flat out straightforward assault. But as most survivors can tell you, they often also engage in behaviors that are quasi-sexual or not sexual but still boundary-busting. And unfortunately law enforcement and courts are still often so ignorant that they might find a story like this less persuasive than if Strickland claimed to have walked in on Allen doing something overtly sexual to Dylan. So it’s a curious choice for Farrow in constructing her elaborate web of lies.

Mia’s psychology

Allen believes Mia is so angry with him for dating and marrying Soon-Yi that she’s made all this up and sustained it for decades without any tangible reward, and that in order to achieve this she ruined Dylan’s life maliciously. The sort of person who’s capable of doing that to a child would be diagnosed (in the United States – classifications vary internationally) with either Narcissistic, Borderline or possibly Antisocial Personality Disorder. None of these personality disorders are known for their ability to sustain an obsession from a distance for more than a few years without some reward. Neither Mia nor Dylan seems to have made any money from this, gained any fame, etc. Nor have they had the pleasure of watching Allen’s career go down in flames.

If Farrow was obsessed with revenge, why didn’t she apply her amazing brainwashing skills (which we must believe worked not only on Dylan, but also the babysitter and Alison Strickland) to other young actresses with whom Allen has worked since then?

You have to believe she’s obsessed with revenge against Allen for dating Soon-Yi, and yet content to just spout some vemon every few decades. It’s not a consistent profile, and if there’s anything abusive personalities tend to be, it’s consistent – depressingly so.

The behavior of Mia and Dylan is more consistent with people who feel they were wronged and never got justice. It’s more akin to people identifying war criminals who are living under assumed identities forty years after the end of a war in which they were imprisoned or lost family. All those years, they stay quiet because there’s nothing to do but try to heal and focus on the future, and then they see someone “getting away with” what he did to them or their loved ones, and it all comes to a boil again.

Dylan’s psychology

This is the sticking point for me. When Dylan was allegedly first brainwashed by Mia, she was 7. She is now about twenty-nine. During that time, her brain will have undergone massive changes as part of the usual development process for humans. The teenage years alone are a time of rapid brain changes and reorganization, which is why most teenagers change their minds almost daily, exercise horrible judgment at times and rebel against anything and everything. In our twenties, as we begin to explore adulthood, our perspectives can change greatly – not as rapidly or chaotically as during the teen years. We often experience a lot of disillusionment during these years – this is when we find out the world doesn’t work like we were led to believe.

ETA: “There is no rep­utable research to sup­port the notion that chil­dren can be brain­washed to believe they have been sex­u­ally abused when they have not.” (Thanks, SunlessNick!)

To believe Allen’s story, you must believe Dylan’s brainwashing by Farrow held steady through all those natural phases. That never at any point did her maturing mind overcome Mia’s brainwashing. To determine how likely this is, let’s think about a more common form of childhood indoctrination: strict religion. The more strictly you raise a child in a faith, particularly one that’s very rigid and demands adherence to a code not common in the child’s society (i.e., no sex before marriage at all, period, end of story), the more likely the kid is to question or even act out against those beliefs when she hits her teenage years. Then come the twenties, when we discover the world isn’t as simple as we thought and much of it is a big disappointment. People raised in a challenging faith – one that sets them aside from their culture – tend not only to question but to leave that faith for one that’s less challenging, or none at all.

Dylan Farrow was confronted with two major challenges to her personal narrative about this abuse: (1) tons of people insisted Mia Farrow engineered the whole thing, and (2) Mia Farrow continued to support of Roman Polanski, who pled to lewd and lascivious acts with a minor (and you only plead to a lesser crime than the one the police believe you committed). It is simply unfathomable to me that Dylan Farrow never questioned whether perhaps all those people who thought her Polanski-supporting mom brainwashed her were onto something. And yet, she still maintains the same account of events.


  1. SunlessNick says

    This post adds some more context, including this:

    Chil­dren who dis­close sex­ual abuse by a par­ent in the con­text of a cus­tody dis­pute are fre­quently not pro­tected from fur­ther abuse. Research shows that:

    ■· Only 10% of chil­dren alleg­ing incest are ade­quately pro­tected from their iden­ti­fied per­pe­tra­tors by fam­ily courts through long-term super­vised vis­i­ta­tion orders or no-contact orders.
    ■· The remain­ing 90% of chil­dren dis­clos­ing abuse receive no pro­tec­tion, with 70% con­tin­u­ing in shared cus­tody and vis­i­ta­tion arrange­ments with­out any super­vi­sion, and 20% being placed in the cus­tody of the par­ent they accused of the sex­ual abuse, and los­ing unsu­per­vised or all con­tact with the par­ent who sought to pro­tect them.

    This is written in the present tense, so I don’t know whether the numbers match up with the time Dylan’s custody case took place, but even so, the implication is that the judge went considerably against the odds in fully denying custody to Allen.

    • says

      Side note: I wondered where Nancy Lee Grahn had gotten to! This post provides some sad hints. :(

      Nick, I would say that this issue is bound to have been the same them, if not worse. It’s usually judges, not well schooled in psychology, who make incorrect assumptions about which parent is better. But as we see in Dylan’s case, even psychiatrists don’t all agree. What you really need are psychologists who specialize in child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, and can explain things like, for example, how the “crazy” acting parent is really invested in his kids and the calm, cool one is not “together and well-presented” so much as “totally unfeeling.” Appearances can be deceiving.

      Abusive parents threaten to get custody if you leave them or come forward, and the smart ones have positioned themselves so they can provide better care or make it look like the protective parent has a little drink problem or whatever. While courts worry endlessly about “false allegations” of abuse, they often seem to overlook “false allegations” of bad parenting, and how those might serve an abusive parent who wants to punish the protective parent.

      I’m not saying judges are bad people. They have a tough job and IMO are not being provided the right tools. The problem is that experts exist in this field, but they only come to court if paid by the protective parent, who often can’t afford it. IMO, the courts should have psychiatrists on demand, kind of like how they have court-appointed lawyers on demand. These people should be paid by the state, not one side or the other in a case, to determine the dynamics of each family situation where there’s a contention of abuse.

    • Dan says

      Am I misinterpreting those statistics, or are they saying what I think they’re saying? Because it sounds as though they’re saying that, in cases where sexual abuse is alleged, the alleged abuser is TWICE AS LIKELY to be given sole custody than the other parent. That seems so shocking that I feel like I must have misread it, but I’ve read it several times and can’t think of any other interpretation.

      • says

        Yes, that’s what it’s saying. Abusers frequently threaten to get custody of the kids if their partner tries to leave – and even in cases of molestation, a situation where the protective partner has SOME sway over the abuse can seem preferable to a situation in which they have none. And then so-called Men’s Rights Activist groups network and share with one another tactics on how to fool judges into giving them custody in order to “show that bitch her place.” Sadly, the only “men’s right” these groups seem to concern themselves with is the right to abuse women and children, which active members see as their inalienable right as a male. Men who are actually struggling with abusive female partners or a society that thinks it can punish them for failure to conform sufficiently to gender roles are advised to look elsewhere for help.

  2. ae emm says

    Why did Dylan’s brainwash not fail during teenage years? a) it had well over 5 years time to complete b) the other parent (woody) was declared outcast giving Mia total physical and emotional and economical power over Dylan. c) adoptive children are constantly reminded by their adoptive parents that they only exist because of their parents. Regular she or he sprung from my loins children may put up a rebellion, but adopted children are reminded to BEHAVE or ELSE they will send back where they came from.

    • says

      I’ve allowed this comment through explicitly to break down what’s wrong with it. First, I’ve added a link above which confirms something I had suspected but did not turn up in my own research: there is no evidence children can be brainwashed in this manner at all. Which is what I was getting at with talking about the brain development: if the brain is constantly growing and changing, a false memory becomes a very slippery thing.

      This comment makes the dangerous assumption that adoptive parents have special ways of abusing their adoptive children. This is not true. I’m not disputing that adopted kids may be more likely to suffer abuse, but biological parents throw their kids out on the street, have them institutionalized, etc. Biological children of abusive parents may be threatened with death, or the death of pets, or the death of the other parent. If you think being raised by someone’s biological parent protects them from being JUST as cowed as any adoptive child, you are casting unfounded skepticism on the claims of biological abused children. You are doing what Whoopi Goldberg did when she said that what happened to Samantha Geimer wasn’t “rape-rape”, as if it was some soft, comfortable form of rape reserved for white women.

      Abuse is abuse. To say otherwise is to make the problem worse. The abusers love it when you do that.

    • says

      The comments on that one are interesting. Many seem to assume this was her entire memoir, this one small passage about how Allen interacted with her and her parents, and how she handled it, and therefore jumped right on the I’m Sure The Lying Tease Just Wants Fame bandwagon. Which pretty much proves that this is not a genuine argument, but a closed-minded diatribe they bring with them before even pretending to listen.

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