Home > Family, Health, Parenting, Safety > Woody Allen & the solution to violence

Woody Allen & the solution to violence

The solution to violence is acceptance of reality.

I’ve never been a Woody Allen fan. To cut straight to the point, I’ve never managed to watch more than five minutes of an Allen film without falling asleep or wandering off to engage in more stimulating activities, like navel-gazing or counting tiles on the ceiling.

I’ve thought little about Allen in my life, whether as a man or a creator. There wasn’t anything to think about.

It’s only the last week that I’ve given him any thought whatsoever. Earlier this week, I read his adopted daughter’s open letter accusing him of sexually assaulting her as a child.

It’s a hard read. A really, really hard read.

Even harder for me to read are comments from the peanut gallery.

He couldn’t have.

Oh? You, peanut gallery commenter #482, are an expert on sexual predation? You’ve studied it extensively, and wrote your Ph.D. dissertation on the negative correlation between creativity and sexual predation? Do tell me more about your qualifications!

Kids make these kinds of things up all the time.

Yes, your average seven-year-old has read The Kama Sutra a dozen times and is intimately acquainted not just with the idea of sex but with its various positions and applications. If she’s giving details, it must be from the lurid books she’s reading under covers after lights out at home, not because she’s been given untimely, unwanted instruction in sexual touch.

That kind of thing only happens with strangers. In bad neighborhoods.

The majority of perpetrators are friends and family–folks to whom we have entrusted the care and safety of our children. They have access. They have the appearance of their geniality. Their very geniality and seeming kindness makes it easy to deny the things it’s painful to see.

Did Allen assault his daughter? My perception is irrelevant to whether the assault did or did not occur.

It’s the idea of perception that compels me to write. There’s a particular kind of perception that I struggle with constantly:

Denial.

I witnessed a great deal of this growing up, but I never had a term for people who habitually denied reality because it comforted them to chant, “It couldn’t happen here. It couldn’t happen to us.”

Safety expert Gavin de Becker coins these people “deniers.” In the early pages of his child safety book Protecting the Gift, he takes down each of their claims one by one with facts discomfiting to the deniers of the world. He responds to deniers’ claims with facts such as the following:

  • “The most common age at which sexual abuse begins is three.”
  • “…that kind of pervert is living in your neighborhood. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that on average, there is one child molester per square mile.”
  • “…the average child molester victimizes between thirty and sixty children before he is ever arrested.”

As a safety expert, de Becker has decades of experience staring head-on at those things even the bravest of non-deniers shudders to consider. As a result of his decades of experience, he emphasizes the importance of seeing what is, not obfuscating it behind what we wish were truth.

It’s only by facing reality that we as adults can respond to it. That we can use our knowledge to protect ourselves, and our children.

As humans, we laugh at ostriches. They hide their heads under the sand and think the fact they can’t see the threat means they are safe.

And yet, humans do it, too. Every time we murmur a comforting thought based on hope or wish, meant to ease our minds rather than inform, we play a part of the perpetuation of assault. We are a part of telling children, “You must be lying, because that kind of terrible act only occurs to other people, somewhere else. Because it’s more convenient for me to believe this, and it’s easier for me to sleep at night.”

My childhood was shaped by sexual assault, though its devastation was mostly second-hand for me. A family friend placed a hand on my breast, resulting in my nine- or ten-year-old self commanding him to take me home.

Unbeknownst to me, my younger sister endured much worse at his hands. She wrote bravely and beautifully about that in her post, “On Darkness, Negativity, and Other Broken Things.”

My family’s journey through the judicial system afterward introduced me to many forms of deniers, and I learned to recognize them well even if I did not have a name for them.

It also introduced me to the power of the words, “I believe you.” To the law student who spoke these words all those years ago, I believe you are out there making a difference in this world right now, and I am heartened by it.

That experience with a human predator was but one of many my family would endure. In the last, my mom learned a friend’s husband had been trying–repeatedly–to touch one of my sisters. My mom’s friend quickly became an un-friend, accusing my mom of various ulterior motives for saying such a thing. My mom pleaded that she had nothing to gain by divulging what she’d learned from my sister, but her pleas fell on unhearing ears.

The power of denial is strong.

If that is true, I have built my whole life on lies.

My experiences opened me to discussions with others who had encountered assault as children. A recurring theme in those discussions was the disbelief of adults who cried, “This couldn’t happen! You lie! You shameful, filthy creature!”

If that is true, I have built my whole life on lies.

The problem with not facing this possibility is the even more troubling possibility of sacrificing a child’s safety for unfounded peace of mind.

Is it worth it, to sacrifice a child’s health and safety to hold on to the perception of good choices made? Or is it better to acknowledge that sometimes, terrible things happen, and sometimes happen at the hands of brilliant, apparently compassionate adults, recognizing that change is only possible following the acknowledgment of truth?

My son will know hard truths. So, too, will the little one I am seven short weeks from meeting. They will know not because I wish to scar them, or scare them, but because I want them to be equipped to avoid the very real monsters in this world. Knowledge is power, and the knowledge I share with them is the power that they will use to keep themselves safe when I am unable to do so.

But while I am able to do so, I will consider the possibility of any and all eventualities, no matter how terrible. It is my obligation as their protector, and it is an obligation I hold sacred.

I will look upon things it is hard to look upon.

I will see that which is hard to see.

I will hear that which it’s hard to hear.

I will not deny, nor take part in perpetuating violence by my denial.

I will look, I will see, and I will hear. More than that, I will share all of the things I take in, and hope that in so doing I will help equip even one person to understand that it is only by taking in what actually is that “what is” can become “what was.”

And that our kids, these souls who require our protection before they can protect themselves, need us to see . . . for them, and their well being, no matter how much the seeing pains us.

It’s thus I ask not, “Did Woody Allen do it?” but, “Could he have done it?”

Ask yourself the question with intent not to judge but to see, and then listen, really listen, to how you answer. Your answer is the key to the well being of every child whose safety rests, no matter how briefly, within your hands.

Deniers, more than any other people, have it in their hands to protect our children and change our nation. Why? Because the solution to violence in America is not more laws, more guns, more police, or more prisons. The solution to violence is the acceptance of reality.

— Gavin de Becker, Protecting the Gift

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  1. February 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    As usual, thoughtful and thought-provoking! Thank you for sharing these insights, this wake-up call.

    • February 7, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks, Patti! Remembering all the grief from the terrible situations I recall, it breaks my heart to imagine the scale on which these tragedies continue to occur. I would love for people to understand that their willingness to see is one of the greatest protective gifts we can give the young.

  2. Koa
    February 7, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Good!!!! I have been thinking similar though not formed thoughts the past 2 weeks as my son has started expressing to me, very thoughfully, his feelings about ways I slight him (mom, don’t close the car door on me when I’m talking, it hurts my feelings), and we’ve had many many conversations about feelings, and actions, and expressions, and trust and belief. And these have caused me to think of the what ifs, though not express them. Good post.

    • February 7, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      I am so heartened to read about the conversations you have with him, not just now but always! And also to have insight into your thoughts. That you are thinking such things, and having such conversations? So hopeful for the yet to come. 🙂

  3. kingmidget
    February 7, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    There’s no doubt that Woody Allen could have done it and based on everything I have seen there’s also no doubt that Woody Allen also might not have done it. In your efforts to take everything in, I also hope you take in those elements that can exonerate people.

    • February 7, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      I wonder if you’re responding to my post, or someone else’s. I’m leaning toward the latter as my post addresses not pushing for calls of guilt but potentialities, and the willingness to entertain all of them–guilt or innocence.

      Our impressions from the peanut gallery are irrelevant to that case already past. It’s what we can take from this and use to make children here and now safe that is important to me. Not the guilt or innocence of this one stranger. Period.

      Please feel free to discuss the guilt or innocence of Woody Allen elsewhere.

      • kingmidget
        February 7, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        Interesting … everything about this post is about … oh, never mind. It’s pointless. If you didn’t want to make it about Woody Allen you shouldn’t have made it about Woody Allen. But, I’ll repeat my suggestion … that you make sure that in “taking it all in” you actually take it all in.

        • February 7, 2014 at 9:51 pm

          The accusations re: Woody Allen were the instigator for this post. Reader feedback has repeatedly pointed to the fact that posts are more meaningful in the context that inspired them. I provide context now, even knowing it will occasionally cause some people to lose the forest to the tree.

  4. February 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Beautiful and well-written, as always. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, that don’t delve into blame-placing, but into ways in which we as a society can think about how we approach abuse. It’s a tough, tough line to walk.

    • February 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      It really is. It’s been a long, long struggle to accept that I can’t change the past, and to find what I can do. I can speculate, and I can feel things about events already past, but that dwelling doesn’t feel constructive. Combatting denial does. I wish everyone would read de Becker’s books, which are such a beautiful and empowering mix of grace, insight and pragmatism.

      I love you.

      • February 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

        I love you, too. It’s a difficult thing, and I had some serious denial going on myself – it’s a safety mechanism, for sure. ❤

  5. February 8, 2014 at 5:07 am

    I’m so saddened to hear you and your sister have have learned about this first-hand. I’ll definitely go in and read her story. You are so brave to confront the hard-issues head on with your children, or at least know you will at some point. The hard stuff? Hard for me–but I know I will too at some point with my son. You are so right about calling out deniers and I hope they are reading and listening.

    • February 8, 2014 at 6:44 am

      I was at Comic Con when my sister emailed me she’d written about the experience. Suddenly, nothing I could experience at the convention was one-tenth as amazing to me as the fact she had opened up. Then, reading the actual words? I choke up just remembering what it felt like to read them the first time, suddenly totally unconcerned with anything else that did or didn’t happen that weekend. There was so much sadness and silence around it when I was growing up that I assumed I would never know much more than I could gather from little snippets from court. It wasn’t so important to me that I knew the pieces I wasn’t allowed to hear in court, but I hoped . . . I don’t know, but that someday it would not be something over which she felt any guilt. Reading her post, man. Just, man.

      As a child, I was devastated to realize I had had a chance to stop something terrible in its tracks. It didn’t matter that I was in elementary school. I was the big sister. I was supposed to protect. I had been exposed to this man’s darkness and, responding to that one incident, had failed to prevent so many more.

      It’s thinking about that feeling that compels me to write things like this and “Portrait of a Pedophile.” An ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure here. I don’t want a single other person to waste chunks of their life wishing for the kinder might-have-been. I understand how hard it is to recognize that something so horrific is so common, but that recognition is a tool to avoid much greater pains, and that’s what I wish deniers understood.

      We have had conversations with my son about appropriate touch and about communicating, but it will be a while before we start talking specifics. The big thing we want him to know now is that sometimes people are not nice, and that it’s exactly the fact of someone demanding he keep a secret that means he should tell. More will come with time, but for now, these are the distinctions we want him to understand, hoping he will never once be called to use them but understanding he might.

  6. February 8, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Beautifully written and well thought out. The idea is to go forward and protect and believe the unthinkable is possible.

    But as you pointed out, we as a society are quick to blame. Especially when it comes to sex. Look at the example of Sandra Fluke. She testified that contraceptives should be covered by insurance and was branded a slut.

    Our society or parts of it is made up of dumb dums. That’s another thing we have to teach our kids!

    • February 8, 2014 at 6:55 am

      That is exactly it–the idea that compelled me to write, even if a particular instance inspired the writing! I probably could have spared a few more words expanding on the asking the “could” question, emphasizing at greater length it’s not posed to judge any one person but to see one’s own responses and aversions to the question itself.

      Most of us won’t ever meet Woody Allen, so weighing in based on a handful of sentences . . . I don’t see much benefit in it, although I understand it. What I do continue to see benefit in is challenging myself and others to see what might be, the better to prepare and respond to it in our own lives.

      I feel like focusing on judging acts as another blinder. So focused on judgment, it can be hard to step back and see the bigger picture. Judgment itself doesn’t accomplish much. It doesn’t mean I don’t find myself doing it (even here, right after reading), but when I do, I use that as a chance to ask, “What am I missing by focusing on reaching a conclusion instead of the steps?”

  7. February 8, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Your thoughts are always so eloquently expressed.

    I will look, I will see, and I will hear. More than that, I will share all of the things I take in, and hope that in so doing I will help equip even one person to understand that it is only by taking in what actually is that “what is” can become “what was.”

    Aside from the obvious request that the “what is” stops happening, what more can we ask as a society? Let’s look, see, hear and share.

    And completely aside from anything else in this post: seven short weeks! SQUEE!! ♥

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      I just keep thinking of my mom’s wish each generation have it better than the last, and wouldn’t you know, that’s how it’s come to pass. So awesome.

      And isn’t it wild that the home stretch is already here? I remember my first pregnancy seeming eternal, but this one has flown. Excitement! ♥

  8. February 8, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and this post. My Husband and I are buying the book today!

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      That is awesome news! Both that and The Gift of Fear (same author) are incredible reads. They’re the only books I can personally call life-changing, even almost a year after initial read. I hope you find as much knowledge and comfort in Protecting the Gift as I did!

  9. February 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Thank you for this. Just… thanks.

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you. I meant to sit down and write a paragraph or two on a few different subjects, but then . . . this. I’m glad I set aside that plan and went instead with what I clearly really wanted to say.

  10. February 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Great post. As someone with a child you want to protect them and make them able to speak out and protect themselves if possible. The question I have is when/how to have those discussions.

    Again great post!

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      de Becker addresses this throughout his book, which I’d highly recommend checking out from the library! It’s a pretty quick read, but full of excellent practical guidance. I know I envisioned these discussions in one context, but they’ve ended up being had in very different ones. Usually they’re inspired by discussion from something we’ve seen in a movie or read in a book. My son starts answering questions and his curiosity has led my husband and I to these conversations. I wonder what it’ll be like with the second one, though; at this point, I can only speak to what works for my son, and what worked for me from what my mom did.

      She was always fairly blunt, and her openness made it easy for me to see things going on around me. When she cautioned me to stay away from one person specifically, probably our first conversation on the matter of dangerous adults, she said I’d be able to see the ways in which one adult’s behavior was different than that of the other adults around us. She was right (“No other adult here is offering money for kids to sit in their laps–yikes!”). I’ve remembered how those couple of guiding sentences set me on a path toward trusting my instincts, even if I didn’t know what to call them at that time.

      Sometimes it aches to answer my son’s questions, but I’m heartened by how well he takes in the information and leads the conversation directions he’s ready for. So far, the bubbles of those conversation remain narrow, but they expand bit by bit daily.

      Good luck, and thank you so much for reading!

  11. G M Barlean
    February 8, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you for addressing these issues. I, unfortunately have my own monsters in my closet, and it’s a horrible shame so many of us do. Denial is truly the most hurtful thing beyond the abuse itself.

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      My heart aches every time someone tells me about their experiences not being believed. I wish I had a time machine to go back in time and lend my ears/hand/heart. I can’t do that, but I can do this . . . hoping, so much, that fewer children will know either the hurt of the initial abuse or the damaging disbelief that often follows.

  12. February 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I’ll say it again: You’re one helluva mom, Deborah.

    • February 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks, Hook! I have plenty of weaknesses, but I’m glad to have learned (finally!) to also see that they are paired with a good number of strengths, too.

      • February 8, 2014 at 4:59 pm

        Indeed they are!
        Don’t be to hard on yourself – that’s my job!

  13. February 8, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I know the point of your article isn’t to blame woody allen, but after reading his rebutal I was like o.m.goodness he sounds exactly like dad did! I remember him verbally and in letters always trying to say mom was trying to turn us against him! Mom, if anything for the longest time did the opposite. It was himself that “turned us against him.”

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:06 am

      Your comment opened up a good conversation with Anthony about those turning-against comments growing up. I remember running into one of our aunts while I was in college and having her lash out at Mom for this “turning against.” I told her Mom had actually tried to speak well of Dad, and that any “turning against” was the byproducts of Dad’s own actions and inactions. Like spouting off about being turned against without for a moment stopping to consider how his own actions/inactions shaped things. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the will toward denial ran strong among his clan! Sad, because denial is one of the biggest obstacles to actual change . . .

  14. February 10, 2014 at 3:37 am

    As a society we are so quick to turn away from what is uncomfortable or ‘unthinkable’. We are so quick to believe our ‘icons’ can’t also be predators, whether those icons are the nice ‘dad’ next door, the doctor, the lawyer, or the movie director. We, as a society, are so quick to ‘blame’ the victim, either because they deserved their victimization (my mother said this to me), or they are lying.

    You laid a great foundation for how to consider the possibilities without pre-judgment. How we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:10 am

      All of what you write rings so, so true. By telling ourselves certain people are exempt from vice because we admire or respect them, we create the landscape where they are free to exercise those vices. So sad. So changeable.

  15. February 10, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Awesome post of truth, Deb! I always have my eyes and ears open. I’m involved in my daughter’s life in every way so that she knows she can come to me, tell me what needs to be told, and that I will believe her. I’ve had a few instances of this over the last two years with her being bullied, and every time I make sure we deal with it immediately and that Maycee knows she will be protected. XOXO-Kasey

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:38 am

      I’m involved in my daughter’s life in every way so that she knows she can come to me, tell me what needs to be told, and that I will believe her.

      This is a beautiful, beautiful thing to read. My heart is warmed by it, and by the thought of what Maycee will pass on as she grows thanks to the love she has known from you. ♥

  16. February 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I agree with everyone above who praised this post. It’s extremely well written and thought provoking. There are so many levels to what you’ve said here. Through my personal prism I see that Woody has, through the way he’s lived his life, already demonstrated who he is. Far too often things like power, privilege and wealth accommodate injustice.

    • February 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Far too often things like power, privilege and wealth accommodate injustice.

      It is so, so true. I wish I could have more confidence that the U.S. justice system served justice rather than other interests, but to date . . . I see too much of the latter to be able to use the words “justice system” with a straight face.

  17. February 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Deb, thank you so much for taking the time to write on this crucial topic. I’m ordering de Becker’s books for myself and my daughter, who is studying to be a school psychologist.
    The denial of someone’s experiences, just because it’s uncomfortable for others, has to end! Well done.

    • February 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      The denial of someone’s experiences, just because it’s uncomfortable for others, has to end!
      I am awed how succinctly you put this. Exactly!

      I’m also excited you ordered the books. They have had such a profoundly positive impact on my life, and I know from many conversations since reading that others have been so moved.

  18. February 10, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Well written Deborah. I like the question you propose at the end.

  19. February 11, 2014 at 5:05 am

    I recently read an argument online, between 2 strangers, on a mutual friend’s page about the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow op-eds. I was not only disgusted by the rudeness thrust at the other, but by the fact they both insisted they knew the facts of this case. I kept thinking the real problem was lost in the weeds, the real problem is the one you so eloquently pose: denial. Before we ask, “Did he/she?” in a case of child abuse, rape, or any other violence, we need to ask, “Could he/she?” We need to remove the glasses that filter our vision; that prevent us from seeing what we refuse to see; the glasses that deny us a clear view of the denial we choose in all cases of violence and in particular where children have been victimized.

    As always, excellent post, Deb!

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      I love this comment! I started reading a few fact-based articles, but each portrayed the same facts in such different lights that I found them useless. A friend sent me one such assessment, which I intended to read the whole way through . . . until I realized I’d spent about ten minutes reading and only made it about one-quarter way through. I’ll never know. Slanted facts presented as if not-slanted won’t persuade me, but then, I’m not interested in being persuaded one way or the other in cases far removed from me, so long as I am able to see what is in my day to day life in a way that benefits the safety not only of my own children but those in my life.

  20. maurnas
    February 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Gavin De Becker is amazing. All of his books are thought provoking and should be required reading, especially for women. And I don’t know a single woman without monsters. Myself included. Great post!

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      He really is! It’s amazing to me there’s a person such as him in the world–with his particular experiences cultivating his particular insights, and matched to clarity of expression that will benefit any/all who listen.

  21. February 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Denial is so powerful. It is so powerful that it kept me from realizing the physical and emotional abuse that I endured as a child until I had my own child and realized how wrongly I had been treated.
    Denial is so powerful that it can cause the abuser to “forget” the events that happened. Luckily I have had my sister to corroborate my memories and give credence to the emotions I’ve felt in the aftermath.

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      The idea of corroboration is one I’ve thought about some recently. I have no doubt that if I were an only child, some of my older blog entries would have been greeted with hostility from those about whom I’d written.

      I myself faced the bizarre experience of being told my memories were manipulated, leading me–at only 17 or 18–to say, “Wow, that line must work really well for all the people who weren’t there to bear witness to your abuse!” With a party of four remembering so many individual tragedies, convenient misremembering is much, much harder. And those who conveniently misremember? They make the love of all those who don’t pull such shenanigans shine even brighter.

      • February 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

        I can’t even imagine how much audacity it takes for someone to look the person they’ve abused in the face and tell them they are wrong…it really just leaves me speechless.

  22. nicciattfield
    February 21, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I agree. Knowledge is power. As important is community awareness! Bystander effect should be one of the biggest means at working towards change, because as long as children are vulnerable (until adulthood) they need every adult with a mind to look out for them. Adults like Jimmy Savile get away with it when grown ups say it’s all okay and he couldn’t have!

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Your last sentence says it so well! Adults’ denial works so much devastation. And the denial? It doesn’t change objective truth, no matter how comforting it can feel.

  23. cardamone5
    February 27, 2014 at 5:42 am

    I feel your outrage and empathy in your well written words. It’s interesting because just prior to the letter Dylan Farrow wrote (which I have not yet read because I am dreading how hard it will be…denier, possibly), I wrote a post entitled “Thank You Woody Allen for Documenting that Women Still Struggle with Identity.” I was aware of the prior allegations when I wrote it, but had just watched “Blue Jasmine” and was so moved by Blanchett’s portrayal of a drifting housewife, I felt compelled to write. Only the beginning deals with Allen, but given the new information, I am ashamed to have supported him. I grieve your sister’s experiences, and appreciate your forthrightness. It is an important reminder to everyone, but especially us parents never to let our guard down where our children are concerned.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

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