Late Saturday, The New York Times published an open letter written by Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, in which Farrow, for the first time in her own words, described the sexual abuse she allegedly endured as a child at the hands of Allen. At the end of the letter, Farrow specifically called out celebrities who have continued to work with and champion Allen’s talent, despite the publicness of these allegations. “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?” Farrow asked. “Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?” (Allen has continued to deny Farrow’s allegations.)
Cate Blanchett responded vaguely and delicately when she was asked about Farrow’s allegations at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. But Alec Baldwin, who has never been delicate with words, had stronger words for Twitter followers who said he owed Farrow an apology. “What the f&@% is wrong w u that u think we all need to b commenting on this family’s personal struggle?” he tweeted angrily to one. To another follower he responded, “You are mistaken if you think there is a place for me, or any outsider, in this family’s issue.” Both tweets have since been deleted.
While I would prefer to see all of these famous Allen-o-philes declare public support for Dylan Farrow, I expect most will either stay quiet and respond in a “neutral” fashion, like Blanchett has. But Baldwin’s second, more “polite” response has been nagging at me since I first read it. On the surface, perhaps what he’s saying is simply, “This is not my business.” (I would argue that Dylan Farrow made it our business by writing about it in the NY Times, but okay, Alec.) But Baldwin’s wording strikes me as dangerous. Regardless of whether you believe Dylan Farrow was sexually abused by Woody Allen — and Baldwin hasn’t said whether he does or doesn’t — labeling allegations of sexual abuse a “family issue” in which outsiders have no place only communicates to other sexual abuse victims that the abuse should be kept as quiet as possible. What if family is the abuser? Family “outsiders” include the police, teachers, and other people who might be able to help a victim whose family is either abusing them or who doesn’t feel comfortable telling their family that they’re being abused by someone else.
Sexual abuse victims, especially children, already carry around so much undeserved shame and fear; many, many go years or decades or forever without telling others what happened to them, not because it didn’t happen, but because of the fear that they won’t be believed, or because they don’t want to believe it themselves, or because they have been taught to think the abuse is normal. Those are just three of myriad reasons why an abuse victim might be hesitant to come forward. When the general population, including famous people on Twitter, continues to use language that refers to sexual abuse and sexual abuse allegations as “private,” “personal,” and not for “outsider” involvement — and I have seen dozens of examples of this on Facebook over the last few days — the cause/effect is further isolation for victims. With all eyes, including the media’s, on these allegations once again, I hope we can be mindful of how the language we use to discuss them impacts the victims we don’t even realize are listening.