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The Dylan Farrow Letter

Anna Sterling |
February 8, 2014 | 8:54 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

Dylan Farrow, 28, has published accusations of sexual assault against her estranged father, Woody Allen. (Photo/Liberty Voice)
Dylan Farrow, 28, has published accusations of sexual assault against her estranged father, Woody Allen. (Photo/Liberty Voice)
There's been a lot of talk this week since Dylan Farrow released her open letter in the New York Times about the abuse she experienced at the hands of Woody Allen.

And, of course, with any talk that involves celebrity, sexual assault, and he-said, she-said, there's a lot of debate and controversy surrounding it.

In case you're not already well-versed in what's going on, here's a round-up of what you need to know before you form your own opinion.

First, here's Dylan Farrow's letter, in which she writes, "Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse."

If you were a bit put-off by Nicolas Kristof's introduction to the letter (like I was), then read Aaron Bady's piece in The New Inquiry where he writes about rape culture and the problem with assuming Allen's innocence.

In a rape culture, you can say things like “We can’t really know what really happened, so let’s all act as if Woody Allen is innocent (and she is lying).” In a rape culture, you can use your ignorance to cast doubt on her knowledge; you can admit that you have no basis for casting doubt on Dylan’s statement, and then you can ignore her account of herself. 

And on Friday, Allen released his own letter in response to Farrow's in which he stands by his innocence.

None of us can be absolutely sure as to what took place between Allen and Farrow. What's perhaps more important, though, is the way we as a society react to the whole debate. Which of your Facebook friends are quick to defend Allen? Which are the ones siding with Farrow?

Ann Friedman shed light on why people are quick to defend either the accused or accuser:

When you don’t have firsthand knowledge of an incident — if you’re a casual acquaintance or an occasional collaborator or just a stranger watching the details fan out over your social-media feeds — where you come down on such accusations boils down to which experience you identify with more.

She goes on to compare how this sort of self-identifying takes place with racial discrimination and sexual assault. "[...] Most white people 'can only relate to racial discrimination in the abstract. What white people can relate to is the fear of being unjustly accused of racism.'”

Those of us who have experienced racism, sexual harassment or misogyny firsthand can relate to accounts of these same types of treatment. And those who haven't may find it that much harder to relate to accounts of those who have.

But particularly when it comes to cases of sexual assault, harassment, and rape, victims are almost always assumed lying until proven truthful. (Anyone remember Anita Hill?) This is called rape culture and it's how our society functions.

So when you're done reading this and off forming your own opinion, think about the experiences you've had and who you relate to. Think about how survivors of sexual assault are often silenced and made to feel like liars, or even worse, that they brought assault upon themselves.

When last year the World Health Organization called violence against women a "global health problem of epidemic proportions," remember that who you trust has a concrete impact on the world we live in.


Reach executive producer Anna Sterling here. Follow her on Twitter.



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