In response to recent reactions to Dylan Farrow's open letter on the abuse she sustained at the hands of filmmaker Woody Allen, one survivor speaks out and shares their story.
This has been a trying few couple of weeks for me. I'm typically a very private person when it comes to issues close to home, and nothing hits closer to home for me(both literally and figuratively) than incest.
When I talk about being sexually abused, which I rarely do, I never mention that it was incest. Not because it makes me uncomfortable (I'm fortunate enough to finally be in a very good position with my experiences**) but because it makes everyone else so visibly uncomfortable. I never mention that it was incest, even to others who have been abused, because that makes it Different. I never mention that I see my abuser at every holiday, that I talk to them on the phone, that I love them. It makes no sense to anyone, and I'm sure that they would view it as sick or as some kind of mental problem or denial on my part. I understand that. But it is not your place to judge me.
Incest, like all sexual abuse, is incredibly complex, but it is complicated by the fact that, in many cases, the victim truly loves and trusts their abuser. In my case, I endured two years of abuse before I spoke up. I was five and six years old, and I remember it all vividly. And it didn't emerge in a grand reveal, either; rather, a family friend asked if I loved/got along with this person and I said, "Yes, but..." Truly, if that friend hadn't asked that pointed question I have no idea how much longer it would have gone on. What followed was a firestorm, family estrangement, years of therapy. Everything blew up. My abuser, it was revealed, had in turned been abused by an older cousin in the years surrounding my grandfather's death. We went to therapy together*** as well as apart. We were both victims, we were both survivors. My parents, good, loving, attentive parents, were under the microscope: how could this all have happened on their watch? How terrible, how negligent, were they? I believe that the answer is: not at all. We were all trusting. If you can't trust your family, who can you trust? I still struggle with that question.
Reading about Woody Allen and Dylan and thinking about all the other children out there makes me incredibly, unspeakably sad. I lie awake thinking about it, worrying about my nieces and my future daughters, about all the seemingly kindhearted and loving men (I always think men and girls because this has been my experience, but it could just as easily be women and sons or any other variation) who are plotting ways to get the innocent alone. I worry and stew and sometimes cry not for myself but for all of those who are as unprotected as I was, who have no one to turn to because part of their support system has proven to be such a threat. Yet I read about it incessantly because it's also a relief to finally have it talked about. I remember sitting in the police station and the officer asking me if there was any chance I was imagining things. I feel so badly for that little child, and I feel so badly for Dylan Farrow, for being put in that same situation. For having to betray someone who you kind of fear but also love. For having to reveal that you didn't know what was right and wrong, or what the limits of normal were. I read every article and think "Yes, yes, yes" or "No, no, no". I shake my head at all the people who are chiming in now but who never cared before, all while realizing that I could perceived being as one of them.
I didn't know anything about this entire situation, really, before the Golden Globes. I vaguely knew about his marriage with Soon-yi, but never really looked into it. I have watched Woody Allen movies and I don't particularly care for him. I've read and watched interviews with Mia Farrow and found that I don't really like her either. And, though they're arguably a huge part of the equation, to some the entirety of the equation, to me they really aren't. To me, it's about Dylan, it's about all the victims of incest who have kept their silence for years or decades, who never felt that their experiences could be acknowledged because they just made everyone so uncomfortable. I read all the comments on all the articles that say "you don't know what happened" and I want to cry. You don't know. You don't know because you won't ask, because you won't listen, because you don't want to hear.
Which is another aspect of what bothers me so much about this. Like Dylan, I was child when I was abused. I was questioned, but I was believed. I was fortunate because as we're seeing here, a lot of people doubt children's accounts. I didn't have to testify against my abuser in a court-setting, but had I been asked to I doubt I would have had the courage. That doesn't make what happened to me any less real. But now? As an adult? I fully expect that if I were to say "I am a victim of incest" no one would doubt me. They might pity me, or view me as damaged (these are both very real reasons that adult victims continue to remain silent, as well as the fear of hurting a family that oftentimes already carries an immense amount of shame and guilt for not protecting them) but they would not doubt me. And Dylan, as an adult victim who has never brought this up in any way is immediately doubted, called a liar, accused when she should finally be accepted or at least acknowledged. This is our chance to accept her, to accept this, to make things different for the children who were not listened to.
So yes. This is all terrible, it's awful, it's horrifying. But read the articles, please, even if you don't choose a side. Pay attention, no matter how hard it may be. Because this is happening every single day and no one wants to know. I'm happy it's all come out; maybe now it won't have to be that awful word "taboo" that I keep reading that it is. Do you know what it's like to have one of the most formative parts of your life be something that people refuse to acknowledge, that they call "taboo"? Having an entire part of your life that literally no one outside of your therapist's office or your support group wants to hear mention of?
Maybe incest survivors won't have to hide their pain and fears to protect themselves or their abusers anymore. When people say that Dylan has "nothing to gain" from bringing her past up now, I have to disagree, but not for the reasons you would think. First off, she didn't bring it up to begin with. Secondly, why shouldn't she set the record straight now, as an adult, when her abuser is receiving yet more recognition while she and those like her are left unacknowledged? And finally, yes, in my eyes she has everything to gain. She has her freedom to gain, and her peace of mind. She has a stigma to escape, to throw off, to walk away from. I don't know how other incest survivors feel about all of this, but I feel they have a lot to gain, too. I hope they feel the same.
As for me, I'm very grateful, no matter the outcome.
*These are just my reactions and feelings. I am by no way trying to speak for any other survivors or victims
**This is not to say that I don't still struggle with the pain, trust-issues, and general anger that come with abuse.
***This is obviously not the norm, and I feel very fortunate that it was the case.