Ronan Farrow, son of film maker Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow, recently published a strongly worded defense of his sister, Dylan’s, accusations of juvenile sexual abuse, and re-stated his belief that Allen’s celebrity and wealth have effectively whitewashed the director.
Having read a wealth of copy, pro and con, on the subject, I have my own opinion, as do most of those who dabble in the world of social media. There’s no lack of outrage from either side of the debate. We will likely never know what really happened, so we tend to base our conclusion on our own ethical and moral biases, and, sadly, on which side recently presented the best defense for our review.
In a week in which Jian Ghomeshi, once a rising media star in Canada, now largely vilified despite a brilliant defense lawyer who shielded him from most of the consequences of his deeds, has once again skated ably and legally away from more dire penalties, it’s tempting to pick a side.
Throw in the sixty allegations of sexual abuse now pending against comedian Bill Cosby, the postmortem accusations against British radio and TV personality Sir Jimmy Savile, and decades of rumours and confessions from women who claim to have lain – whether in thrall or in fear – with famous musicians, actors, comedians, religious leaders of all faiths, politicians, and those with even a modicum of power, and it all starts to seem like a world in which anyone – and I include males as well – can be blithely used as nothing more than an inanimate object fit only to be a sperm receptacle, for the pleasure of anyone who can afford the price.
Take away the celebrity angle, and it’s just another story of objectification and abuse. Money and power can purchase, or simply take without compensation,any commodity, including the bodies of human beings. When challenged, money can certainly be used to cover up or play down criminal acts. Justice should not be blind, and especially should not be blinded by those who can intimidate, whether financially or through abuse of power.
Take away the celebrity angle, and our need to pedestalize the wealthy and powerful, and consider the reality of sexual abuse.
(all statistics have been obtained from this governmental report: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/ccs-ajc/rr06_vic2/p3_4.html)
According to Canada’s own Justice Department, sexual assault is the crime least likely to be reported to police. 78% of victims never come forward, either afraid of further repercussions from their attacker, or in the belief that, even as they confide intimate and embarrassing details to authorities, justice will not be served. In those who do ask for police assistance, the request often comes long after the offence has occurred.
Women account for 85% of all victims of sexual offences, with 69% of women who reported having been sexually assaulted in childhood, being far more likely to be assaulted again after the age of 16. The male victims were also more likely to be children.
“83% of women with disabilities will be assaulted, sexually assaulted, or abused in their lifetimes.”
Those most vulnerable to predatory assault are children, children and adults with disabilities, the unemployed or those with low incomes, the single, separated or divorced, those who have been institutionalized, and Aboriginal women. In other words, people who are already disenfranchised and largely defenceless are deemed of such little value that their assault is as seemingly inevitable as sunrise.
Over the course of their lives, victims of sexual assault are more likely to require therapeutic treatment after the assault, due to psychological and/or physical consequence of these crimes. ‘Nervous breakdowns,’ suicidal ideation and attempts (1/5th of rape victims have attempted suicide,) and post-traumatic stress disorders lead many individuals to seek professional treatment. And of course, once a diagnosis of psychiatric distress is on record, the victim’s recollections become less likely to be taken seriously by authorities.
There are so many disturbing factors in our interest in the misconduct of celebrities. Sex sells, so the media takes advantage of our desire to revel in prurient fascination with the sexuality of the rich and famous, secretly wondering how our own pedestrian genitals would compare. There’s a whiff of self-abasement and forelock tugging in our willingness to self-righteously defend the celebrity’s honour ,while dismissing allegations of misconduct as ‘preposterous,’ and the stench of envious defiance and schadenfreude in the opposite reaction, of taking pleasure in their comeuppance. A breathless focus on the celebrity’s well-being, present or future, refuses to recognize the basic rights and dignity, much less truthfulness, of the apparent victim.
And all of these elements distort a larger, uglier fact – the systemic abuse of the vulnerable by those who believe themselves above the law when it comes to the pursuit of their own mindless pleasure.
When celebrities are exposed as base humans, capable of denying the humanity of their victims, our own true feelings about the rights of our fellow beings are laid bare, and the deficiencies of a legal system still rooted in laws largely forged in times when women were considered second class citizens is revealed. The tender underbelly of misogyny shows itself in comments that claim the victim ‘loved’ the abuse, or begged for more , implying that the superior penises of those with money or power carries with it delights beyond our wildest dreams. Very often, the victims are reproached as vile seekers of fame by association, or derided as greedy gold diggers, only out to strip the beleaguered celebrity of his hard earned wealth. Certainly, the large majority of those who come forward begging for legal recourse are generally dismissed out of hand as liars, eager for personal gain, until either the weight of multiple accusations or the approbation of a male interpreter of the details of the assault enters the mix.
Meanwhile, the after effect on the bodies and minds of those who have been abused is dismissed as irrelevant.
Dylan Farrow’s plight should be an opportunity for meaningful discourse on societal values, and should serve to focus attention on a justice system woefully in need of fine tuning in respect to the rights of all citizens, not simply those owners of property or of the male gender.
Instead, in Ms Farrow’s case, as in so many others in which the alleged victim has been left without a satisfactory conclusion, the healing never begins, and the pain never ends.