Ever since I became a parent, I often think about two childhood friends whom I believe were molested by their fathers. In both cases, obvious signs flashed before my young eyes, but I was either too naive or distracted at the time to notice. Contemplating those horrors now invites a tidal wave of feelings - anger, sadness, frustration, guilt. Maybe I'm no more culpable than any other person in my friends' lives who did nothing to help them. As far as I know, the crimes never came to light, just as we never discussed them at the time. But you recognize certain patterns as you get older. You meet new friends and listen to their stories. You gradually discover that incest and pedophilia are much wider-spread blights than any child wants to know.
This has been extra heavy on my mind in light of Dylan Farrow's open letter about her estranged father (and accused molester) Woody Allen. Without speaking about them specifically, I will make the following points, beginning with the most obvious -
- People who want to sexually assault children need to be kept away from children. It is our social responsibility to sequester predators from our young.
- Abusers tend to have been abused. It us our social responsibility to stem the cycle of sexual violence by helping victims deal with their trauma and holding perpetrators responsible.
- None of this works if we ignore symptoms, shame victims who speak up, or otherwise close our eyes and pray it isn't true.
- It especially doesn't work when we are distracted by a predator's clout, money or prestige. Consider Jimmy Savile, the late English celebrity who is now accused of raping dozens of kids. Through his career and philanthropic work, he positioned himself in such a way that he had easy access to children. So did Jerry Sandusky. These two men were able to abuse many, many young people because they had the power and privilege to do so. Preventing such predators from inflicting that level of damage requires greater vigilance, not less.
I'm not telling you how to feel about Woody Allen as an individual or artist, because I don't think that matters. But your gut reaction to Farrow's accusation does. If it was something like, "Say it isn't so!" followed by a firm resolve to not believe it, then you aren't ready for your social responsibilities. I implore you to make yourself more ready. Because after all, Woody's just some famous guy you don't even know. How will you react when the alleged predator is someone you do know?