The High Cost of Bravery TW: Child Abuse

By now, most of the internet has voiced their opinion on Dylan Farrow & Woody Allen. There are hashtags, articles, counter articles, & an obscene number of abusers & enablers showing the world not to trust them. Some of those people are feminists, renowned journalists, or just plain old enough to know better. This isn’t a step by step dissection of them, their motives, or their impact. I could do that. Again. But to be honest, I’m so tired of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes that I could just scream. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve written that out a lot of the years. And I’m fortunate in that my primary abuser is dead. Unfortunately, he was a family friend & to this day some of my relatives speak of him with a certain amount of fondness. I…mostly don’t speak to them. It’s easier that way than it is to wade into the waters of not being believed, or worse yet being blamed for what I did or didn’t do as a child. Now, as the debates rage on and on, all I can think of is how Dylan must feel to have people who weren’t in that house, in that attic, debating whether or not she knows what happened to her. There were only two people present, and only one of them benefits from lying. But she doesn’t fit the popular narratives about victims of sexual abuse any more than Allen falls into the stereotypes so often depicted on cop shows and afterschool specials.

I wasn’t in an attic. I was in a basement, and in a room off a kitchen that always smelled like fishsticks. The basement smelled of mold, had severe vermin issues, and figures heavily in my nightmares to this day. I still hate unfinished basements. And no, there were no witnesses. There was very little in the way of physical evidence I imagine, since my abuser was my baby sitter and expected to bathe me if I got messy. I can’t prove anything. Probably never could to be honest. I was very young when it started, and as I got older (and I displayed some behavioral issues), there was little or no discussion of anything, but how I should be better behaved. Because that’s what happens to so many of us. So, for Dylan to be brave enough to tell, to be unable to keep telling (at 7 no less), and for her to still suffer emotionally to this day makes perfect sense to me.  I’ve had the therapy, the peace of knowing he can never touch me again, and I’m still not over it.  I pretend I am, because I need some space to try to be who I could have been in a different life.

We laud bravery, especially when it is displayed by folks who are laying it all on the line. We don’t talk about what that bravery costs. What happens when it is displayed and not honored, or worse yet, it is honored, but the trauma of telling isn’t going to lead to any real closure. Woody Allen has never spent a day in jail for the crimes that Dylan has detailed. That’s an incredibly common occurrence in these cases. Telling as a child is difficult, sometimes impossible, the process of telling over and over again as is required to report this crime to the police is incredibly damaging. So when the decisions are made to protect the kids (and conveniently allow alleged abusers to never face charges), it makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is the way adults that report are treated. Just because a child couldn’t face telling, couldn’t withstand family and social pressures, the shame, the guilt, or sometimes the self loathing doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean the child isn’t brave. It means that bravery costs, and sometimes the price is too high.

I will always believe the kids. Because I was one of them. And I was never as brave as Dylan. I’m still not that brave. I’ve talked to the internet about what happened, to friends, my husband, even a few therapists. But most of my family doesn’t know, and the ones who probably suspect will never ask. I don’t fault them for that. I have no idea what I’d say. It’s easier to be the family black sheep, that wild child who no one really understands, than to be anything else. I could tell you about the damage done, and how it shaped me for good and for ill. But this isn’t that kind of post either. It’s just a statement of fact. Here at Hood Feminism we will not be making excuses, tolerating enabling, or apologists. And no, I will not deluge you with stats, but I will point out that after the bravery comes the consequences. The hard part of all of this isn’t just right now when the news cycle is so focused. The hard part is in a few months or a few years when this hasn’t gone away from Dylan’s life. Because it never ever goes away. That’s not obsession, that’s not sick, that’s not a failure to heal…it’s a wound that runs deep, and visible scars that folks may well trip over. We’re not easy people to understand, accept, or even love. But we’re here. It’s not just about being a kid that was molested, it’s about being an adult who has to live with what happened in a world that says your abuser was right. Most people won’t believe you, and even it they do, you’ll be blamed. Because bravery at any age costs more than most of us can stand to pay.

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12 comments

  1. kellyhogaboom · February 4, 2014

    As the parent to a child who had three assaults on their person, I can say that the disclosing process & the entities involved, is potentially as horrific or more so as the actual crime committed. Even supposedly “helpful” entities and agencies make it a harrowing experience and some of them treat children quite shockingly. This is not something I knew before it touched my family. It has been the hardest thing in my parenting experience.

    “That’s not obsession, that’s not sick, that’s not a failure to heal…it’s a wound that runs deep, and visible scars that folks may well trip over.”

    This is true. Sadly there are so many out there who are in denial (willful or just ignorant, I can not say) about how common these experiences are.

    Thanks for writing.

  2. Monica · February 4, 2014

    Thank you. This really helped me on a personal level, I just wanted you to know.

    Now to go have a cup of tea and hide getting all teary at my desk.

  3. Zalia · February 4, 2014

    I really enjoyed your article. It’s so true that bravery comes at a cost, and that’s why it’s important that people learn to recondition their mindsets. I’ve heard someone say “who can really say what happened?” But all I was thinking was who does it benefit when others say things like ‘who can really say what happened’?

  4. AniJ · February 4, 2014

    Thank you for this. It is what hurts my heart reading about any ‘debate’ on these issues.

  5. Peggy Colebank (@frockdoctrineuk) · February 4, 2014

    Thank you for saying this so clearly and perfectly.

  6. Pingback: Believe me: On Dylan Farrow | The Sin City Siren
  7. Sam · February 5, 2014

    I agree with this sentiment. But this is what I have trouble understanding. The letter is very heartbreaking to read but what about those of us who have no stance. I don’t know these people, and this happened before I was even born, am I wrong to have no opinion?

  8. Pingback: Sunday links, 2/9/14 | Tutus And Tiny Hats
  9. KJ8 · February 10, 2014

    We don’t have to take sides to note what hasn’t changed… Every February (!), when the V-Day marketing juggernaut comes around again, I notice that what Eve Ensler calls a vagina is often actually a vulva, and have to wonder if a grown woman can’t tell the difference now, how could we expect a little girl to know the difference then? Also, If Soon Yi was the teenaged instigator/aggressor/perpetrator/engineer/whatever (as he insisted at the time), where were her nude pics of Woody hidden?

  10. Lilly · February 11, 2014

    Thank You for writing this. And it’s OK to say it, you ARE brave. Braver than you know. Your words reach thousands of survivors’ (like myself) ears. You have been brave countless times in the past, and this is just another example of your courage. It never fails to disgust me that hollywood and the public are still willing to embrace criminals like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Alec Baldwin (I could go on too, for days). Again, thank you for this. I’m sharing it on FB!

  11. Mellie Mel · February 17, 2014

    Thank you from Canada. As a black woman who had a sibling raped her as a child and whose mother continues to up lift this person as though no violation was acted, makes me feel sickened on most days.

    While, I have confronted my abuser and do my best to not “act” afraid when he is in my presence, the ill from such a violation sneaks up and gnaws at me unexpectedly. Your comment, “I pretend I am, because I need some space to try to be who I could have been in a different life,” struck such a cord. Many days, I think of the person I could (and still can) be if I did not experience such a violation. Your words are bravery, irregardless of whether certain family members of yours wish to validate them or not. I’m 34 and my family will bring the secret of my rape by my brother to their grave. I refuse too. Keep on, keepin on.

  12. Tae Phoenix · April 5, 2014

    Thank you for this extraordinary piece. I love the quote, “I am not afraid of my truth anymore and I will not omit pieces of myself to make you comfortable.”

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