Friday, February 7, 2014

Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, and Soon-Yi Previn: Old Controversies about False Abuse Accusations Rekindled

Woody Allen wins the Golden Globe’s Cecil B. Demille Award for his life’s work from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and an old family war is rekindled for all the public to see. Mia Farrow, Woody's ex girlfriend, criticized the award because of an old accusation that Woody Allen had molested his then seven year old daughter. Then the now 27 year old woman, Dylan Farrow, publishes her own open letter to the New York Times describing in detail what she alleges happened to her:

Dylan Farrow

Her description is quite detailed and very much consistent with a lot of stories from abuse victims that I have heard over the years.  

I would first like to say unequivocally that the biggest problem in this country is not that false accusations of child abuse by those claiming to be incest victims are believed, but that the true ones are not. The best studies indicate that about 95% of such claims by adults turn out to be basically true, despite many specific details being recalled erroneously. It’s easy to confuse a blue shirt with a black one or a morning for an afternoon, for example, but one is not likely to get being raped mixed up with taking a trip to the supermarket.

But what about that other 5%? The false accusations? It used to be that overzealous therapists pressured their more suggestible patients into “admitting” to having been abused under the nonsensical premise than anyone suffering from one psychological disorder or another simply must have been abused. Well, a few malpractice suits later, that phenomenon seems to have abated.

The most common situation in which false accusations are made at present is during hotly-contested, super-nasty divorces with child custody being a bone of contention. Such false accusations are tied in with the phenomenon of parental alienation, in which one parent who maintains primary custody fills a child’s head with vicious lies and half-truths about the other parent. Parents who put their kids in the middle of their messy relationships like that are just as deserving of condemnation as a child abuser, because doing so is indeed a form of psychological child abuse.

Which is what makes the Woody Allen case so interesting. 

Before Miss Farrow had her most recent say, Oscar nominated and Emmy winning film director Robert B. Weide published a story that had some possibly damning information in it about the whole sordid mess.

Now, I am not claiming to know the truth in the case. Repeat, I am not claiming to know the truth about what may or may not have happened to Miss Farrow. I can only make some general comments about publically available information, which never tells the whole story. As to Mr. Weide’s article, IF IT IS ALL TRUE AND COMPLETE (I’ll be repeating a version of that phrase several times, since some readers will undoubtedly not catch it the first few times), I can point out that there are an awful lot of the most typical indicators of a false accusation absolutely aglow in this story, at least as reported by the author of the piece.

Still, this does not necessarily mean that the accusations are false, or that Mr. Allen (no relation) is telling the truth about being innocent. Repeat, nothing discussed in this post proves anything one way or the other.

If you want to know how children can be induced to tell adults whatever the adults want to hear, I recommend a movie called Indictment: the McMartin Trial, about a preschool scandal in Southern California in the early 1980’s. The alleged abusers were all eventually exonerated, but not before overzealous social workers elicited highly detailed stories from the children that were believed in spite of there being absolutely no evidence that they ever occurred, and which defied credulity in the first place. Like a story of a class field trip to the set of a pornographic movie.

At the time of the original allegations made by Woody Allen’s girlfriend-at-the-time Mia Farrow, Woody was having an inappropriate affair with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Mia allegedly found out about the affair when she found naked pictures of her daughter taken by Woody. An affair with her own daughter!  (Soon-Yi was at least 19 at the time, and Woody Allen’s extent of “parental” involvement was taking the girl to the occasional basketball game, so it is not true that he was her stepfather. Mia and Woody did not live together, were never married, and Soon-Yi’s adopted father was Andre Previn).

So, as Mr. Weide points out, “It’s understandable that Mia would remain furious with Woody for the rest of her life.”  She would have reason to suspect Woody of the worst possible behavior.  Of course, she herself was an admitted cheater who apparently had more than one affair herself during her life. Maybe Woody was the one who got angry first. Who knows? The point is that there was a lot of anger involved in this break up, which makes this fertile ground for possible parental alienation behavior on Mia’s part.

According to the article by Weide,

On August 4, 1992, almost four months after the revelation about Woody and Soon-Yi’s relationship understandably ignited a firestorm within the Farrow household, Woody was visiting Frog Hollow, the Farrow country home in Bridgewater, Connecticut, where Mia and several of her kids were staying. During an unsupervised moment, Woody allegedly took Dylan into the attic and, shall we say, “touched her inappropriately.” Later in the day, it was alleged that the child was wearing her sundress, but that her underpants were missing. The following day, Mia’s daughter allegedly told her mother what had happened, and Mia put the child’s recounting of the story on videotape as evidence... 

If Mia’s account is true, it means that in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior, in a house belonging to his furious ex-girlfriend, and filled with people seething mad at him, Woody, who is a well-known claustrophobic, decided this would be the ideal time and place to take his daughter into an attic and molest her, quickly, before a house full of children and nannies noticed they were both missing...

As for the evidentiary videotape of young Dylan’s claims, it’s been noted that there were several starts and stops in the recording, essentially creating in-camera “edits” to the young girl’s commentary. This raises questions as to what was happening when the tape wasn’t running. Was Mia “coaching” her daughter off-camera, as suggested by the investigators? Mia says no—she merely turned the camera on whenever Dylan starting talking about what Daddy did. Maybe we should take Mia at her word on this. Since I wasn’t there, I think it’s good policy not to presume what took place...

A New York Times article dated March 26, 1993, quotes from Mia’s own testimony, during which she recalled taking the child to a doctor on the same day as the alleged incident. Farrow recalled, “I think (Dylan) said (Allen) touched her, but when asked where, she just looked around and went like this,” at which point Mia patted her shoulders. Farrow recalls she took Dylan to another doctor, four days later. On the stand, Allen’s attorney asked Mia about the second doctor’s findings: “There was no evidence of injury to the anal or vaginal area, is that correct?” Farrow answered, “Yes.”...

Former nanny Monica Thompson (whose salary was paid by Allen, since three of the brood were also his) swore in a deposition to Allen’s attorneys that she was pressured by Farrow to support the molestation charges, and the pressure led her to resign her position. Thompson had this to say about the videotape: ““I know that the tape was made over the course of at least two and perhaps three days. I recall Ms. Farrow saying to Dylan at that time, ‘Dylan, what did daddy do… and what did he do next?’ Dylan appeared not to be interested, and Ms. Farrow would stop taping for a while and then continue.”...

Dr. John Leventhal further swears Dylan’s statements at the hospital contradicted each other as well as the story she told on the videotape. “Those were not minor inconsistencies. She told us initially that she hadn’t been touched in the vaginal area, and she then told us that she had, then she told us that she hadn’t.” He also said the child’s accounts had “a rehearsed quality.” At one point, she told him, “I like to cheat on my stories.”

And then there was this quote from Moses Farrow - Dylan's brother, also adopted, and now a 36-year-old family therapist: "My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister," Moses Farrow, 36, told People Magazine. "And I hated him for her for years. I see now that this was a vengeful way to pay him back for falling in love with Soon-Yi." He added, "Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation [for Dylan] because to be on her wrong side was horrible." 

Dylan called her brother's statement a betrayal.

It’s also interesting that Mia Farrow’s brother, John Charles Villiers-Farrow, has been convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. Mia may have exposed her children to him, so maybe there is a perp that is not Woody.

These observations, if true and complete, raise some serious questions about whether Dylan might be being loyal to her mother by repeating her not-really-true story in the press after her mother brought the subject back to public attention after the Golden Globes.

So, after reading this, anyone who thinks that Dylan’s accusation simply must be true or simply must be false is either highly defensive, blinded by anger, or a simpleton. No offense.

As someone who has studied dysfunctional families for almost 40 years, and who specializes in helping adults who were abused by attachment figures as children successfully confront their abusers, I want to add a few more random random thoughts about the case:    

1.  While reporting ongoing child abuse to the police and prosecuting the perp to the full extent of the law is absolutely essential, airing dirty laundry in public this long after the fact is almost always counterproductive for the victim. Victims may think they would feel a lot better if they get either revenge or just plain old justice for the perpetrator, and they may for a short time. But they are still left with a gaping hole in their soul where their family should be, and they often still have great difficulty self actualizing, or successfully charting their own course in life. As my readers know, I recommend that my patients work with me to discover ways to get past their family member’s formidable defenses and confront the issues involved head on.

2.  There's ALWAYS more to the story that abuse victims and other family members tell people about - even people who know them very well, let alone strangers or the public. Sometimes my patients leave out essentials of their experiences for MONTHS into therapy.

Victims of child abuse are much more likely to hide their parent's behavior than they are to exaggerate it.  

3.  That Dylan Farrow came from a highly dysfunctional background that harmed her seems to be a near certainty, but the details that we know about this case raise a lot more questions than they answer about what actually happened. 

Events in a family can be lied about out of loyalty by one family member to another. I would certainly want to ask about Dylan's relationship with her mother. If Dylan was abused, that means that Mia failed to protect her daughter in this case. Many abuse victims are more angry with the non-protective parent than with the abuser!  Sometimes that anger is covered up. In a reaction formation, the person obsessively loves and/or idolizes the person she's really furious with.  (Not saying it's true, but if Mia coached Dylan and pressured her to make the accusation, this could create a LOT of interesting scenarios).

That some of the Mia's children are angry with her seems likely. As I mentioned earlier, it was reported that Mia found out about Woody's relationship with Soon Yi by finding nude pictures of her around the house, taken by Woody. If this is true, why would Soon Yi, who was an adult at the time, have a sexual relationship with her own mother's boyfriend and then conveniently leave evidence about it lying around the house for Mom to find? (Did she leave it around accidentally? Bullshit). If this is true, then to surmise that Soon Yi is really pissed with her mother is probably a safe bet. Why is she so angry? That would be an interesting story.

I also find it fascinating that Soon Yi seems to get a free pass on her relationship with Woody – she married him and adopted children with him and they are still together - from all the people who are absolutely certain that Woody is a pedophile.

We also know by her own admission and a pregnancy that there was cheating in Mia's past, and families in which infidelity is the norm create a lot of chaos for children. Certainly child sexual abuse could also be present, but it would just as certainly not be required for this "family" to be severely dysfunctional.


  1. I believe the nude snaps of Soon-Yi were prominently displayed at Woody Allen's NY apartment -- on the mantlepiece! Mia Farrow happened to drop by. My interpretation has always been Woody intended her to find them. No wonder she was enraged.

    1. If Woody intended for the photos to be found why wouldn't he have put them out when Mia was scheduled to visit rather than just "dropping by"?

      Also pedophiles generally want to be able to continue their behavior, announcing to the world is a quick way of making that more difficult (I don't really care that much for his movies btw).

    2. plus you don't have to look much further for a woman to be enraged than for a man in her life to marry her stepdaughter, if nothing else it triggers her own feelings about losing her youthful beauty

    3. Oliver, I don't know anything about you other than this comment but it is silly and shallow and shows that you have such a limited understanding of the complexity of being a woman and a mother. To think that a mother would bring such havoc and destruction into her and her child's life (which is what you do when you open an abuse investigation) because she was insecure about her appearance or losing her "youthful beauty" is such nonsense. While you may see a woman's primary attribute as beauty the vast majority of women, especially mature women, do not. In fact, most women welcome the security and power that comes with aging and the loss of constant unwanted male attention. So, when a mother finds vagina shots of her young adult daughter taken by her current partner, her first thought isn't, "why isn't he taking shots of my vagina. Is it because it isn't as beautiful as my daughters?" NO! She's thinking "oh my god, what terrible thing has happened, how could I let this happen, i feel so terrible for not protecting my daughter." Followed by rage, I would guess at the partner she trusted to be a decent human being. Please further your understanding of women. It is woefully lacking.

  2. What stuns me are the hordes of people who pronounce Woody's guilt without reservation. For instance, this guy from Psychology Today ( doesn't consider any possibility but guilt. When advocates for abuse victims turn into zealots, all kinds of horrible injustices can come about, and Woody is getting his fair share right now in the media.

  3. Hello, thank you for writing your article. I want to comment on Dylan's letter. I felt obliged to believe it, as she is the victim, but she uses a manipulative writing style to convince us that she is the victim. I am bothered by it. The way Dylan manipulates the reader is the following: in her first paragraph she puts the reader in the shoes of the child victim. It seems that she is just telling of the abuse, but she crafted the letter to be more than that. Just in case we don't "get it", towards the end of the letter, she has the reader imagine the abuse. This is a writer's technique and its manipulative. Why does she do this? In the middle of the letter, she says she "falls apart", involving the reader into something emotional, but does not authenticate her experience by saying "I had years of therapy." or "I had years of therapy and take medication, as a result." This would have been more "grounding" for me, to have heard this from her. Lastly, she brings in Hollywood Stars. Let's take Emma Stone as example. Since Woody Allen was not found guilty, I believe that Emma is behaving in a proper manner. Only after Emma reads Dylan's letter, can she decide if she wants to be in WA movies or not. Dylan jumps the gun, by asking Emma to decide before reading her letter. Its not fair. Dylan's writing techniques made me not "trust" her letter. And its sad, as I know there are people who will feel offended at this. There are many straightforward writers on the topic of sexual abuse and personal experience, that one can support and stand behind.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. It's very interesting to have the perspective of someone with experience in issues of family dysfunction. Have you seen the 1993 court document on the Allen/Farrow custody case? Some portions are quoted here and there, to support or rebut Dylan Farrow's accusations, but there's one article in the Daily Beast that look at the entirety of it:

    It reinforces the picture of that family as highly dysfunctional from the beginning. And there are some details that make me take more seriously Allen's version that the young Dylan confabulated her story in response to her mother's prompting. For instance, Mia Farrow had already started labeling him publicly a "child molester" (with regard to his affair with Soon-Yi Previn) in the month before the alleged molestation of young Dylan. The notion that it was somehow not good to be around him would have made the child receptive when her mother started asking her questions about what happened when he was alone with her the day in question. (Yes, contrary to what some are saying, the child didn't come to her mother of her own movement, Farrow was warned by a friend who was there that Allen had spent time unsupervised with her.) I can see a seven year old, hurt and confused by the betrayal (daddy going out with her sister instead of mom!) and attuned to her mother probably real anxiety, starting to dislike the company of her father, feeling disgusting when he would try to cuddle as if nothing had happened, and mixing those feelings with the story of what was going on with her elder sister. The part in Dylan's letter about Allen telling her, while allegedly abusing her, that he would put her in his movies could reflect that: Soon-Yi Previn had already had a part in Allen's acclaimed Hannah And Her Sisters the year before!

  5. Hello,
    I read an article online by a woman journalist who said she is sure Dylan was molested. One strong reason she gave is from the pictures she has seen online with Woody and a young Dylan, and that Dylan is frowning and looks uncomfortable. I thought the same thing but then saw live footage on television of Dylan holding her dad Woody's hand and walking and she looked as happy as could be. If you think about it, the photos released to the press over the years, of Dylan and Woody would most likely come from Mia and Mia could choose photos whereby Dylan is frowning. The tv also showed a child Moses talking against Woody. It was very apparent that Moses was coached by an adult, to have the kind of opinions he had. There is enough evidence that the children were coached by Mia negatively. Also, I don't believe that the prosecutor decided to not go to trial based on Dylan's fragility. Its all about evidence. If you have enough evidence, you go to trial. There are ways to spare the victim during court proceedings, even if it's a child. The real reason one does not go to trial is that one does not think he or she can win the case.

  6. An article from The Nation arguing to give Woody the benefit of the doubt:

  7. The problem I have with this article is that it doesn't seem to mention the fact that the proven cases of false memory being implanted in children by adults, occurs in children aged five, or under. A seven year old child is too old to have false memory implanted by an adult. The children in the false memory case mentioned in the article were much younger than seven, - pre-schoolers in fact, and it would not have been possible to manipulate a group of seven year olds in this way.

    1. Hi anonymous,

      Thanks for your comment. I'm not so sure that seven year olds cannot be induced to lie for their parents, and then eventually come to act as if they believe their own lies. This happens all the time in parental alienation cases.

      Supposedly, therapists were able to "plant" memories in fully grown adults using hypnosis or amytal interviews. It's still a murky area. We can't read minds, so it's hard to know for certain.

      In cases like the one we're discussing, IF someone was not molested (and again, I am not saying Dylan was not molested), it is more likely that the person who is lying is doing so out of loyalty to one parent and at some level knows that the story is, at the very least, highly suspect. Looking at it this way is, IMO, much more accurate than the concept of "implanted memories."

      For a more complete view, see my post about the "actor's paradox" at

      Trauma, rather than being hard to remember, is actually hard to forget.

    2. The problem with traumatic memories is that they are very often confused. One of the aims of therapy is to try to reconstruct a linear narrative, which allows the victim to place it in perspective.

    3. I honestly think WA is innocent.
      Unfortunately his oeuvre is full of sly jokes about sex with underaged girls. There's Tony Robert's line in Annie Hall about the advantages of LA over NY: "sixteen year olds, Alvy! Twins! Consider the mathematical possibilities!" The old orthodox priest in Love and Death says something about the greatest thing in life is young girls. The judge sentencing Gene Wilder in the 'Bestiality' sketch from Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex adds ". . . and the sheep was underage!"

  8. I realize this is late entry. When the story first broke back in the early 90s, my mother, who has a keen sense about these things, said "this is terrible. She's coaching those kids!"

    I think an adopted child would, if anything, be more susceptible to wanting to please the parent (figure) due to the absence of a biological connection.

    This is going to sound sexist, but Mia seems like one of those 'genius whores', like Alma Mahler-Groupius. Prior to Allen was Previn, and soon after Philip Roth (inspiration for Deconstructing Harry)

    There's a reason old Dolly Sinatra called her 'Mama Mia!"