For many victims of sexual assault, the road toward justice, or even just healing, is long and tenuous. Validation—the simple of act of someone acknowledging the truth of the offense—can be one of the strongest means of solace for a victim. And often a close ally, one who offers that validation, can be hard to find but more powerful than anything else in recovery. For Dylan Farrow, daughter of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, her brother is that ally.
Ronan Farrow penned an essay for the Hollywood Reporter last week in which he declared quite simply, “I believe my sister,” after years of actively avoiding any publicity regarding the allegations of sexual abuse against their father. Ronan, a reporter and film producer, admits: “My sister's decision to step forward came shortly after I began work on a book and a television series. It was the last association I wanted. Initially, I begged my sister not to go public again and to avoid speaking to reporters about it. I'm ashamed of that…”
Dylan came forward two years ago when Woody Allen was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Outraged by Hollywood's gushing fandom of her adoptive father, Dylan wrote an open letter about her the abuse she says she suffered. In it she says, "I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me."
Reports of this alleged abuse began in 1993 after Mia Farrow and Woody Allen split, but this letter was the first account from Dylan, herself. Woody has always denied any foul play and remains unprosecuted.
While it's imperative to note a person's innocence in the eyes of the law, Ronan says it's this small move of editorial correctness that keeps men like his own father and Bill Cosby from being relegated by the media. Ronan wrote, "Being in the media as my sister's story made headlines, and Woody Allen's PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out."
After witnessing how many major publications seemed to avoid the topic, or worse, succumbed to the pressure of Allen’s PR machine and participated in protecting Allen’s reputation, Ronan decided that it was time to make a stand for his sister, and for so many other victims whose voices go unheard.
“Very often, women with allegations do not or cannot bring charges,” says Ronan. “Very often, those who do come forward pay dearly, facing off against a justice system and a culture designed to take them to pieces.”
Ronan and Dylan would know. “When Dylan explained her agony in the wake of powerful voices sweeping aside her allegations,” says Ronan, “the press [is] often willing to be taken along for the ride, and the fears she held for young girls potentially being exposed to a predator—I ultimately knew she was right. I began to speak about her more openly, particularly on social media. And I began to look carefully at my own decisions in covering sexual assault stories.”
All of this is to say that while surviving sexual assault is anything but easy, having support is invaluable. We owe it to those around us suffering from awful offenses to hear them out and help them heal. Even if the only justice they get is simply in the form of acknowledgment.
There are all kinds of allies out there. There are quiet ones who know you know well and simply sit in the pain with you, helping you feel less alone. There are powerful ones, who have a voice and a platform they can use to amplify your story and demand justice. And in the case of Ronan Farrow, there are those who fill both roles. A baby brother who saw the abuse unfold, who had to walk his own path of understanding and moral duty, but who ultimately showed up. Who is using the full weight of his privilege and vocation to not only validate his sister, but to create a cultural shift that will hopefully make her story less common.
"Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse," Dylan wrote in 2014.
Thankfully her brother Ronan is no longer cowering from his sister's truth, but instead working “to build a culture where women like my sister are no longer treated as if they are invisible.”
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