On Accusation, and Justice, and Public Opinion of Very Bad Things…

So I started reading some of the links that people are posting about the open letter that Dylan Farrow wrote about being raped by her adoptive father, famed director Woody Allen, some 20 years ago. And I don’t know what I think about it, so I thought that I’d use some space here to elaborate on my thoughts…

I should say right off the bat that I’m not particularly a Woody Allen fan. I don’t dislike him – it’s just that after looking through the list, I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever seen a single one of his movies. Even Annie Hall, which I’m pretty sure makes me a terrible fan of movies in general.

When I look at the discussions taking place from the outside, I see two very distinct camps forming – those who still think that he should be burned at the stake, and those who think that she’s lying. And I read this article that talks about how the problem that with a case like this, they can’t both be innocent – one of them must be lying. The article kind of loses me as it goes on to talk about rape culture and suggests that when you’re famous, the burden of proof is always on the other person…

…which stings a little as it reminds me of the incidents last year that ended Kevin Clash’s career as the beloved Elmo, even though all of the accusations were eventually withdrawn or thrown out in court.

Because in the end, both situations are decidedly bad:

  • being sexually abused
  • being accused of sexual abuse that you didn’t actually commit

And let’s not kid ourselves that the second one doesn’t happen because it does, and I’m not even saying that to throw a weight of statistics around, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that people do get falsely accused of things, even when it comes to rape, and history has proven that the public isn’t quick to forget serious accusations, even after a judicial verdict has been set and the accused has been deemed innocent.

It’s kind of one of those things that follows you – just ask OJ, or the late Michael Jackson, or even George Zimmerman … I’ll even throw a case in the mix that *I* thought was blatantly miscalled. Whether each of those people was truly guilty or not, there’s a portion of us – myself included, for Zimmerman – who will always look at them as disgusting individuals that got away with heinous crimes where our justice system failed their victims.

…which kind of branches into the question of what really is the purpose of our justice system here in America?

The general idea is that we both punish and rehabilitate those who commit crimes, with the understanding that each person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And we’ve certainly seen that fail in some cases where a murdered gets off on a technicality or there’s just that one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit, yet maintaining “beyond a reasonable doubt” is vital because we’ve also had some cases where our justice system failed the defendant and sentenced them to life in jail or death when in fact they were actually innocent.

That’s also very, very bad, and so we’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place with a situation like this because on one hand, you want to make it as easy as possible for a victim to actually come forward and speak out against their abuser after having experienced whatever personal hell they’ve been put through – in a way, it’s not right to just assume that she’s not telling the truth until the evidence proves otherwise, and yet what do you do in that handful of cases where the accusations were all fabricated and the accused’s life is ruined because the accuser had a personal vendetta and just wanted to ruin them???

I’m not saying that’s what happened between Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen, but it’s important to consider when we look at reopening this case in the public eye after 20 years ago a New York judge found the charges to be inconclusive. Clearly there’s a whole lot of drama in that family, and there’s been a lot of hurt, and in some cases it’s not really crazy to say that there’s been a lot of malice brewing from Mia Farrow, who some allege has been a mastermind at all of this latest circus coming to light in the middle of awards season after her ex-husband already received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes.

But I don’t even want to argue motive or malicious intent. For whatever reason, she felt the need to get everything off of her chest in a very public manner at this point in time, and now even as he offers the most reserved response possible, lines are being drawn once again and people are taking sides and some larger discussions about rape culture are being thrown around that I’m not exactly sure deserve to be preserved in a vacuum. In theory, the idea of supporting and not shaming the victim makes all of the sense in the world … that is, as long as the victim is actually a victim. But that part of the culture doesn’t really take into consideration the idea that not every allegation will be trustworthy, and the problem is … I don’t really know where to go with that.

Do you always side with the victim and risk creating a society where crying rape is easy retaliation against one who’s hurt you? Not only is it a disservice to those who are actually victims of abuse, but it also creates a pretty terrifying landscape where one can be guilty until proven innocent specifically in one of the most heinous crimes of all.

Or do you always side with the accused and nurture the very rape culture that many talk about where victims are afraid to speak up? Just as equally bad, this puts even more power into the hands of legitimate abusers who stand a better chance of getting away with it if the process sides in their favor.

Another angle to consider is that you really have two processes to consider here when one of these cases surfaces – the judicial process that decides whether the accused spends the next 20 years in jail, on top of the public opinion that decides whether the accused will be treated like he belongs in jail even if the judicial process finds them not guilty in a court of law. Each process works very independent of one another, and as we’ve most definitely seen in the past, one might argue in the stance of celebrity that the public opinion swings even stronger than that of the courts.

Just ask anyone who still considers The King of Pop to be a child molester, even in death.

Or George Zimmerman, who myself included will consider a murderer until the day that his victim’s ghost pops by to cite that in fact, he did really start the whole thing after all.

It’s like this quote from The Daily Beast’s take on the situation

“The point is that accusations make headlines; retractions are buried on page twelve, and coerced accusations are as much a reality as coerced confessions.”

At this point Dylan Farrow could write a second blog post and recant, saying, “Mom forced me into saying the whole thing…” and still there’s a section of the public that will look at Woody Allen as a disgusting child molester who should be put to death. And maybe he’s far enough along in his career that the negative publicity doesn’t really matter anymore … though the whole awards jabs would kind of suggest otherwise … that’s still got to be a pretty crappy allegation to shoulder if it isn’t actually true.

Anyways, like I said at the very beginning – I don’t know where the middle ground is here. How do we create a society where victims feel safe to come forward and yet the falsely accused still maintain the innocence that they deserve??? How are we supposed to maintain both innocence and faith on both sides of the table? It’s no more right to denounce a victim than it is to crucify someone who was falsely accused, and as deeply emotional as each side is, it’s certainly not fair to write one off in favor of the other.

So where do we go from here???

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