The Woody Allen Case Reminds Us That It's the Accuser Who Invariably Ends Up on Trial

By Penny, Laurie | New Statesman (1996), February 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Woody Allen Case Reminds Us That It's the Accuser Who Invariably Ends Up on Trial


Penny, Laurie, New Statesman (1996)


How should we watch Annie Hallnow? After the film-maker Woody Allen was given the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow told the New York Times the story of how he had allegedly sexually abused her when she was a child. The accusations against Allen are 20 years old and were never brought to trial but he takes his place in a grim roll-call of well-known men whose work and achievements are being called into question because of how they are said to have treated women and children. (Allen denies the charges against him.)

It seems that the whole world is a mess of abuse allegations. In Britain, Operation Yewtree has marched a procession of beloved household names--some of them deceased, some of them merely half-deceased--through the spotlight. And there are others: politicians such as the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith; respected activists such as Julian As-sange. It is uncomfortable to watch. I like quality cinema and digital rights as much as the next lefty hipster but the allegations against Rolf Harris were even more disconcerting. I'm never going to be able to watch Animal Hospital in the same way again.

There are people, not all of them men, who believe there is a conspiracy going on. When I speak to them as a reporter, they tell me that women lie about rape, now more than ever. They say women lie to damage men's reputations and "destroy their lives", even though popular culture is groaning with powerful men who have been accused of sexual abuse and whose lives remain distinctly undestroyed: men such as the boxer Mike Tyson and the singer R Kelly.

The women and children who make the accusations, however, risk their relationships, their reputation, their safety. Anonymity in the press is no protection against the rejection of family, friends and workmates. We have created a culture and a legal system that punish people who seek justice so harshly that those who do come forward are assumed to have some ulterior motive.

Rape and abuse are the only crimes in which, in the words of Lord Hale, "It is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial." They are crimes that are hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, because it's a case of he said, she said". Nobody can really know and so we must assume that he is innocent and she is lying. The problem is that, in this society, "he said" is almost always considered more credible than she said".

The rule of law cannot be relied on when it routinely fails victims of abuse. As the Woody Allen case demonstrates, the law courts aren't the only place where questions of sexual power--what men may and may not do with impunity to women, children and other men--are played out.

No judge can legislate for the ethics of the Golden Globes judging committee. And no magistrate can ensure that a young girl such as the Missouri teenager Daisy Coleman, who came forward two years ago to say she had been raped by a classmate at a party, is not hounded out of town, along with her family, until she makes attempts on her own life. …

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