Believe the Survivors or the Science?
What the science of memory can teach
us about the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen case
by Carol Tavris
Like many others, I read the passionate and polarized commentary that followed Dylan Farrow’s letter (February 1, 2014)
accusing Woody Allen of having sexually abused her in the attic 21 years ago, when she was 7. As is always the case with sensational charges of
child sexual abuse, most people leap to conclusions:
“Of course he did it”; “he couldn’t possibly have done it.”
I have no idea what happened that day so long ago, and neither do you. But
science and skepticism can, perhaps, help us ask the right questions and avoid emotional reasoning. For example, it’s one thing to be sympathetic to Dylan’s
account, but quite another to base one’s support mindlessly on the criterion of “believe all claims of abuse.” One blogger put it bluntly: “One of the bright, glaring, non-negotiable truths I have learned, though, is to believe survivors. Believe them, even if they don’t remember everything. Believe them, even if they remember almost nothing. Believe them, even if the person they say raped them seems like the nicest
person in the world to you. Believe them, even if it shatters your whole world to do so. Believe them, even if they don’t want to share details, or press charges, or ever talk about it again. Believe them, even if their story sounds implausible to you.”
That kind of argument makes my heart sink. Believe the children in the
Los Angeles McMartin preschool case, who claimed their teachers were molesting them in (nonexistent) underground tunnels and taking them on plane trips (on a preschool teacher’s salary?).
Believe the children in New Jersey, who accused their daycare teacher Kelly Michaels of, among other things, licking peanut butter off children’s genitals, making the children drink her urine and eat her feces, and raping the children with knives, forks, and toys, although no adult noticed and no child had symptoms? Believe the women who, after years of therapy, hypnosis and “truth serum,”
claimed that their fathers had raped them every day for 16 years only they forgot until now? Continue reading