Why Young Sexual Assault Victims Tell Incoherent Stories

After I'd spoken with investigators and my parents, I am sure my account sounded just as rehearsed as Dylan Farrow's. The story was mine, but the words were new to me. I had to internalize a context and vocabulary based on the way adults interacted with my story. I had to learn which details were the most important. In short, I was pushed through an intensive course on a daunting topic very, very quickly. If this was also Dylan Farrow’s experience— if her mother also had to teach her what all of this meant and why it was serious—then that was a very different thing from being “coached.”

My parents chose not to torment me by moving forward with criminal charges, and we probably never had a case. But 19 years later, I know two things. I know that all of it absolutely happened— and I know that there is absolutely nothing I can do to prove that I was not a confused kid who invented a convoluted story.

You might sense that I’m biased toward believing Dylan Farrow. You’d be right. Her letter was so strikingly familiar— right down to the dutiful storytelling interrupted by clinical gloss-overs— that I find it difficult not to believe her. But I also know that if Woody Allen had gone to trial and I were on the jury, I would have declared him not guilty. Chances are, the other jurors would have found him not guilty, too. Crime and law are grown-up games, and they need to be played according to grown-up rules.

But the fact that we will never know what really happened in this case does not make me feel neutral. It makes me feel furious. The entire legal paradigm favors adults. Whether or not Woody Allen abused Dylan Farrow, untold numbers of  children are sexually abused. And in an overwhelming number of cases, the adults responsible could never be found guilty in any court of law. The deck is stacked against victims from the start. Which, of course, is exactly what their abusers count on in the first place.

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Natalie Shure is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn.

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