Comment | Too quick to judge Woody Allen

In an open letter to the New York Times, Dylan Farrow recently spoke openly and harrowingly about her alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Woody Allen. Farrow believes that the continued celebration of Allen’s films leaves all of Hollywood complicit in the cover-up of her alleged sexual abuse. Earlier this month, Cate Blanchett walked away from the 86th Academy Awards with the Oscar for Best Actress. Acceptance speeches are usually dull affairs but Blanchett’s had captured the imagination. Would she thank director Woody Allen or not? She did. If Dylan Farrow was watching she was no doubt horrified. But Cate Blanchett did the right thing.

I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that in this country and the United States, the justice system works on two principles; the right to a fair trial and the right for a defendant to be considered ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Who are we to now deny Allen these rights? I do not seek to claim Miss Farrow’s allegations are false. I understand that for many women it is an incredibly difficult thing to speak out about sexual abuse and I would loathe to foster a culture in which this only becomes harder. I grant equal weight to the cases of both Farrow and Allen, you simply have to. It’s not that I don’t believe Miss Farrow; it’s that I can’t. It may sound crass but until we can see it proven beyond reasonable doubt that Allen did indeed sexually abuse his daughter we have no right to condemn him. He is innocent until proven guilty.

However, it seems as a society we’ve already decided upon Allen’s guilt. Celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Adam Baldwin have led the way; we’ve tried him in a kangaroo court of twitter and facebook and now it’s simply a matter of sentencing. For many it seems to urge caution when condemning Allen is tantamount to being both a rape apologist and a sexist, as well as being just as bad as the rapists themselves. I consider myself neither of those things.  To support victims of sexual abuse is commendable; to condemn a man with no evidence is not.

It’s worth pointing out that Allen has in fact faced these charges in court. They first surfaced in the early nineties during Allen’s bitter divorce from Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow. However, at the time, a police-appointed medical team concluded that Dylan had not been molested and a judge found the sexual abuse charges inconclusive. Allen was found to have failed in his duty as a parent, though this in no way suggests his relationship with Dylan was ever sexual.

Sadly such is the nature of rape and sexual abuse cases that convictions are often incredibly unlikely. A lack of witnesses and a lack of evidence often means it’s one person’s word against another and so the crime becomes almost impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt. It’s tragic and I have no doubt it deprives hundreds, if not thousands, from seeing justice every year. It likely means that many who have committed crimes have walked away free but I have no doubt that as a principle the right to be considered ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has saved countless innocent lives too.

In this case along with countless others we may never know the truth. I can only offer my sincere hope that as a family they can find some closure.

Ben Cook

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