Woody Allen OR Who’s in Your Family?


A pedophile is a pedophile is a pedophile.

I truly believe that.  Utterly simple, and completely complicated.

I had dinner with a friend of mine this weekend; he’s a huge Woody Allen fan.  He told me he was looking for ways to make Allen’s sexual abuse of his daughter not true, but then he saw the custody papers on line and felt the air go out of him in one long whoosh.

Of course, Allen married his adopted daughter, so it’s not at all equivocal whether he’s a child abuser.  Incest is incest, adopted or not.  The entire Hollywood community, not to mention old Woody Allen fans, have lived in denial for years.  Dylan Farro’s open letter of accusation is a confirmation of what the public already knows.  It’s difficult to discredit corroboration.

I’ve been an activist to end violence against women and children my whole life; I’m grateful that feminism taught me to believe the victims unless there’s a reason not to.  So my friend and I found a real divide.

A pedophile is a pedophile is a pedophile.

But not for the people who love the abuser.  I am coming to understand this, just as I understand that we see pedophiles as less than human, and our need to deny any similarity to them makes us call them monsters.  So when we find our favorite artist, or our neighbor, or our mentor, has committed crimes against children we either 1) want to deny that it happened or 2) feel betrayed and confused.  Why do we feel betrayed?  Because if we have loved or liked someone capable of hurting children, then are we  monsters too?  Or have we been duped?

My friend said he didn’t want to jump on the “condemnation train” and he was glad he didn’t have to sit on a jury to determine Woody Allen’s guilt.  I have been thinking about these statements, because they disturb me so much.  Feminism tells me that if you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.  I know this to be true, but I paradoxically resist it as too easy an answer.

What does it mean to be on the condemnation train anyhow?  I can ask my friend what he meant, but I wanted to think about it first.  I wanted to think about the fact that child abuse is ubiquitous, and yet we call abusers monsters, but they mostly get away with their crimes, especially if they offend within their own families.  If child abusers are monsters, why do we have statutes of limitation to protect them?

My favorite uncle is one of the pedophile priests.  I found this out a few months ago, though my uncle was caught in 1985 and went public in 2002. I’ve never found it difficult to have an opinion about child abusers.  My opinion is and was that they should go to jail for a very long time.  Period.

Now I have that opinion about my uncle.

What is unique is that my uncle publicly confessed and apologized.  He was past the statute of limitations, so he risked his relationships and remaining community, not jail time.  In his confession, he described his seduction of young boys.  He talked about vowing to never be alone with boys again, about his sex addiction, and about confessing in the hope of redemption–he wanted, he said, for his life to be about something besides shame.

My uncle worked for civil rights in the 60’s, smoked pot in the 70’s, came into our house with his handsome sensitive face, and his laugh, and he brought with him a kind of light.  I disliked all my other uncles–and I had about 14 of them (both sides of the family, mostly my father’s Irish brothers).  They drank, made sexist jokes, or stood in judgment (the religious fanatics).  They were loud and frightening; when they looked at me, their eyes glazed over and traveled by me as if I was of too little importance to notice or acknowledge.  Only my uncle the priest looked at me and saw me, a person, the very one that I was.  I know now that my gender protected me from his darker interest–my uncle liked only boys.  I don’t know if he abused my brothers–they don’t want to talk about anything like that.

A pedophile is a pedophile is a pedophile.

I still love my uncle.  I love him for confessing, and I hold to that, because I want it to redeem him.  If jumping on the condemnation train means hating him, I can’t do it.  But I can say this–I would send him to prison in a heartbeat.  I believe, confession or no confession, he should have been made to go.  Perhaps he truly is capable of redemption–his actions seem to point that way, but for me that means less of a jail sentence, not a get out free card.  But then, I’m a little odd.  I have always had this way of standing apart from my feelings and thoughts, and taking a cool, determined look at things.  I’m attached to my uncle–that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t pay for his crime.  I want to see him as redeemable and in search of redemption–that doesn’t mean I’m right.  I’m not a cold person–I have a heart (way too much of the time, it sometimes seems to me), but I like to look, and see, and I don’t like to let myself or anyone else off the hook.  I believe in justice.

I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to hate.  But I truly believe we all need to look.  A pedophile is a pedophile.  And a human being.  The child abuser is your neighbor, your priest, your favorite filmmaker, your uncle, your mother, your father, your teacher.  The person who helped you may have hurt someone else.

My uncle, who I loved, described how he groomed his victims, how he selected them and then seduced them.  He didn’t talk about how he seduced the rest of us into loving him, into looking past his darkness, into seeing his charm, sensitivity, intelligence.  He didn’t talk about how this kind of addiction warps all of who a person is into the service of getting the next hit, the next victim, into making sure it’s unlikely he will ever be caught.

A pedophile is a pedophile is a pedophile.

When I was 16, I had a joint, and I offered to share it with my uncle and a friend of his.  My uncle didn’t deny he smoked pot, but he said, “You’re my niece.  You’re 16.  I can’t get high with you.”

I could tell he wanted to get high.  On my father’s side of the family, doing what you thought was right instead of serving your immediate gratification was a pretty rare thing.  I believed, in that moment, that my uncle really loved me.

He probably abused another boy that week, that month, within days.  He took their innocence, and gave them back lives of suffering.

I don’t have to hate, but I have to unequivocally say that this is terribly wrong.

So, perhaps I am on the condemnation train.  Perhaps I want to be there.  Because I believe Woody Allen belongs in jail.  And, note, he’s not confessing, or apologizing, or giving any sign he’s interested in redemption.  He doesn’t give any sign he loves his daughter.

Maybe hating isn’t the way to go.  But hate or no hate, justice must have its day.  Not denial of the event, or denial of the humanity of child abusers.  Child abusers are human.

We must know this, and protect our children just as fiercely.

I hope this is what my friend meant when he said he didn’t want to jump on the condemnation train.  But I am afraid that he probably didn’t.

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2 thoughts on “Woody Allen OR Who’s in Your Family?

  1. Lyralen, I really appreciate you grappling with these tough issues so openly and honestly. Your thoughts about abuse, hate, justice, and forgiveness really resonate with me right now, especially since the play I’m doing (Bully Dance, at the BPT) deals really explicitly and intimately with all of those things, without shying away from the complexities involved. I don’t want this comment to come off as just a plug, but if you haven’t seen Bully Dance yet, I highly recommend that you do, as it speaks to a lot of the complications that you’re getting at in this and some of your other posts. Take care!

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