Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Dylan Farrow's Open Letter Matters

This post contains references to childhood sexual abuse.  Survivors may experience an emotional response.

You probably have heard by now of Dylan Farrow's open letter which described the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her adoptive father, Woody Allen.  It was published this weekend in Nicholas Kristof's column, here (please be aware the letter contains graphic details and may trigger emotional responses in survivors).  It has incited thousands of responses and even a denial by Woody Allen himself.

I don't want to talk about any of that.

What I want to talk about is this: whatever the details of the Farrow case, it calls needed attention to the sexual abuse of children which is happening right now all over this country.  It calls needed attention to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who struggle every day to move on from the damage it caused.  It calls needed attention, too, to our cultural acceptance of abusers.  And this is where it gets uncomfortable for us. Most of us are nauseated when we read details like those in Farrow's letter.  Most of us turn away, revolted, and wonder what kind of monster could do such a thing to a child.

But most of us, also, don't do anything about it.  We are, in our willingness to ignore this widespread yet largely silent epidemic, complicit in allowing criminals get away with victimizing the weakest, most innocent among us.  If Dylan Farrow's letter does anything, I hope it's to allow us to hear one representative voice speaking for the thousands that are being silenced right this very minute.

"So, Michelle," you might be thinking, "I am sickened.  I am disturbed.  I would like to do something.  But what can I do?"  Here are a few simple things you can do right away: to help abused children, to help survivors, and to change our cultural acceptance of these criminals:
  1. Be watchful.  Click here to learn the signs of childhood sexual abuse and do not hesitate to step in when you think you might be seeing those signs.  If you suspect an adult you know is perpetrating crimes on children, get help immediately.  One of the things I learned when I worked as a Child Attorney and Advocate was this: perpetrators don't look like monsters.  They look like normal people.  They are normal people, with very serious emotional disturbances.
  2. Get educated.  Whenever I am asked, I send people to Stop It Now!, a nonprofit agency whose mission is to prevent child sexual abuse.  They have great educational resources.  Go over to their website and learn something.
  3. Fund the agencies who are helping.  Stop It Now! is one of them.  Another is RAINN.  Another is Childhelp.  All three are respected national nonprofits who do excellent work.  In the Charlotte, NC area, you can support Council for Children's Rights or On Eagle's Wings Ministries, both agencies close to my heart which do amazing work.
There is a problem.  These are some solutions.  Not one of us can fix it, on our own.  But each of us can choose whether to turn away from the problem or be a part of the solution.  Hopefully I have given you some ways to be a part of the solution, starting today.  If I've missed something, please share in the comments.
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