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Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow, and the Lingering Effects of Childhood Abuse

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When it comes to Woody Allen, people tend to fall into two camps: Those who believe he sexually abused his stepdaughter Dylan Farrow when she was a little girl and those who don't. Allen has never been prosecuted for the alleged crime and has maintained his innocence since 1993, when the news first broke, but the story has been written about from every angle by journalists, other celebrities, and artists repeatedly. Dylan herself, now 28, spoke out about the abuse in an open letter published this weekend in the New York Times where she details multiple instances of sexual abuse starting at age seven.

While it's true that the only two people who know what really transpired 20 years ago are Allen and Farrow, what's often missing from these kinds of conversations—or conversations about any type of childhood abuse—is talk about the lasting effects abuse can have on victims. 

"Often the most painful part of the abuse is not the abuse itself, but what happens afterward—telling your mom (or the world) and being told not to exaggerate, to quit lying, and to stop telling stories to get attention," says clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, author of Breathe. "As with Dylan, the perpetrator is often a person who is greatly respected—a community leader, philanthropist, religious figure, or coach—someone whose status makes coming forth and telling on them even more difficult." In fact, RAINN estimates that two-thirds of all assualts are committed by someone the victim knows; by contrast, only about 14 percent of sexual assaults are "stranger rapes." 

In addition, the majority of sexual assault victims don't turn to the police (an average of 60 percent of assaults over the last five years were not reported), and even when those crimes are reported, they very rarely lead to an arrest and prosecution. Often victims fear retaliation and ostracization for telling about their assaults or abuse. In Farrow's case, a Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence to pursue a criminal investigation, but that he dropped crimminal proceedings to spare Dylan since she was so young at the time. Moreover, many victims develop eating disorders, self-harming behaviors such as cutting, and depression or anxiety, Vranich says. (Farrow reports that she was belatedly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last year.)

"Healing is lifelong, and as in Dylan's case, victims often continue to see the perpetrator in their neighborhoods, their homes, or with others that they might be hurting," Vranich says. "Recovery is very personal. Some people are able to heal, while others struggle with the pain forever." 


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