Over the weekend, Woody Allen came out with a letter in the New York Times entitled "Woody Allen Speaks Out" where he addressed the renewed allegations of sexual assault and said that after this, he would not address the issue of Dylan Farrow's accusations ever again.
In the piece, he wrote: "I naïvely thought the accusation would be dismissed out of hand because of course, I hadn’t molested Dylan and any rational person would see the ploy for what it was. Common sense would prevail. After all, I was a 56-year-old man who had never before (or after) been accused of child molestation. I had been going out with Mia for 12 years and never in that time did she ever suggest to me anything resembling misconduct. Now, suddenly, when I had driven up to her house in Connecticut one afternoon to visit the kids for a few hours, when I would be on my raging adversary’s home turf, with half a dozen people present, when I was in the blissful early stages of a happy new relationship with the woman I’d go on to marry — that I would pick this moment in time to embark on a career as a child molester should seem to the most skeptical mind highly unlikely. The sheer illogic of such a crazy scenario seemed to me dispositive."
This, of course, is in response to Dylan Farrow's open letter where she wrote, "What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains."
What does this widely publicized case playing out in the headlines again 21 years later tell us? To me, it proves one thing with total certainty: Child molestation cases are perhaps the most difficult to prosecute and prove conclusively, and many accused abusers never make it to court simply because there is not sufficient evidence to do so. Of course, this doesn't always mean they aren't guilty, just that their crime cannot possibly be proven in a court of law.
How do I know this? I am a lawyer who has worked on exactly these kinds of cases, and for a number of reasons, they are incredibly hard to prove.
1. Many cases are dismissed or never charged simply because of a lack of evidence.
2. Confessions are difficult to achieve, and without one, winning a case is much more odds stacked against you than any other case because of the accusations in question.
3. A child is not a fully formed adult and many are deemed to young to take the stand.
4. Children are inconsistent and are eager to please adults. Testimony is difficult and unreliable, even when the truth is being told.
5. Many children do not come forward at all, and eventually fall through the cracks of the system.
One of the most heartwrenching cases I ever worked on involved the rape of a young 8-year-old girl. Not only did she have to take the stand to testify, but like the Allen case, it occurred during a bitter and acrimonious breakup. There was an attempt to obtain a penile plethysmograph (a device to measure sexual arousal on a man's penis), which never occurred, and even if it had been obtained, would not have provided the concrete evidence that a jury often needs to convict.
Even though we see it played out on so many "Law & Order" TV shows, it is still easy to forget. Many times what it comes down to is whether a conviction can be obtained. And that's it. No matter what a child is saying, that is what decides whether a case is prosecuted at all.
You need 12 people on a jury to agree to convict a person. Without proper and indisputable evidence (semen on clothing or bed sheets as detected by infrared technology), how do you get "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Physical evidence is challenging because unless you get a child to the ER for a rape evaluation, it is hard to tell months later if the hymen was torn. And even if the hymen was torn, there are other ways for this to occur. One case I dealt with was ruled out because mounds that were found in the vaginal area, which can be caused by rape, can also be caused by pure genetics -- again establishing reasonable doubt.
A trial is a quest for the truth. But when evidence can point in two different directions, the truth -- at least in a court of law -- is not readily discernible.
The psychological experts will always be conflicted in these situations. On the one hand, the defense attorney will be able to say that the abuse was a story created by the soon-to-be ex and implanted in the child's mind. Then the child starts filling in details that don't hold up on cross exam.
Because a child is involved, she is often -- understandably -- giving inconsistent versions, which can dramatically hurt the case.
Of course, the victim here is the child, and since we are dealing with someone so very young, inconsistency is entirely understandable -- but in the court of law, compassion is rarely a factor.