In these past two weeks, the subject of child sexual abuse has been uncharacteristically prevalent in the headlines. Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, posted a letter in the New York Times about how her adopted father touched her when she was 7-years-old.
In the letter, she shares some details of her experiences, the residual effects of her childhood trauma, and a condemnation of how the public continues to widely celebrate a man who has caused her so much private pain.
Since the letter’s publication, Allen defended himself and Dylan has responded to his defense. Both sides cite expert testimony, court details and circumstantial evidence to prove or negate the allegations. Dylan and Allen also have had friends and family come to their defenses, all of them offering insights into what really happened.
None of us knows what happened or ever will know, but one thing I can safely assume is that Dylan doesn’t want to talk about her experiences – she feels she has to.
People who have been abused as children personally feel there’s more loss than gain in speaking out. There is absolutely no pride in waving the child abuse banner. I should know. I’m a survivor who went public about what I’ve gone through.
I was 13 years old when my stepfather groomed, then drugged and raped me. The abuse lasted for a few months.
My stepfather was eventually caught, but not because I spoke out. I didn’t. In fact, I denied the abuse. I had too much shame to even face my harsh reality when confronted by police officers. I was 14, and it was my first week in foster care. I didn’t cooperate in the beginning because I wanted to be looked at as normal.
I wanted the dark moments in my life to fade even further into the dark.
Unlike Dylan, the evidence in my case was indisputable. Police confiscated video recordings of my abuse in their drug raid at my home. My stepfather denied there was any abuse going on until he too was confronted about the videos. Had the video not existed, I wouldn’t have said anything. It would’ve been too painful, too personal to disclose my abuse. I could barely face the trauma by myself, let alone share that story amongst others.
Others with nametags, with notepads, checking boxes on a form.
It took me over a decade after the abuse to be emotionally ready to verbalize it publicly, and the only way I could have done it was at a reading for my graduate class. It was the night before I would graduate from Mills College, and I wanted to see if I could read aloud one of the worst moments of my life. It took me a year to write my story and minutes to read about how my stepfather took my virginity.
I wish I could tell you that I got a resounding applause or that a lot of people came up to afterwards with supportive feedback. But instead, I was met with a lot of silence and my former professor who shook her head. She told me she couldn’t believe what I had done.
“I can’t believe you read that story,” she said after. “Why would you do such a thing!?!”
Although the story I read that night appears in my book, I have yet to read that section in public or really speak about my sexual abuse since that reading, which occurred ten years ago.
It’s hard enough to have survived child abuse, let alone relive it through flashbacks, nightmares and memories, but to find the courage to speak out only then to have the reaction confirm your worst fears…it’s just too much to take as a human being.
So for me, I’m greatly encouraged by Dylan’s determination not to remain silent anymore, even though there have been great attempts to discredit her. I’m also surprised but glad that this story is not going away and that her speaking out heartens most people in the comments sections.
To answer my former professor’s question as to why I read my story in public, or explain why people like Dylan speak out: It’s not because we’re vengeful, or mentally ill, or out to capitalize on our experiences. What could only eventually motivate survivors to speak out is silence.
We need to say what is unsaid, state the unspeakable. We need to try to hold the unaccounted for accountable. We need to shame those who have made us feel ashamed.