An Open Letter to Dylan Farrow

If I could have reached out to either Dylan Farrow or to Nicholas Kristoff concerning this post, I would have asked for permission to quote Dylan’s letter in its entirely. Since I couldn’t, I am merely posting the link. My blog readers may want to read the open letter from Dylan Farrow before they read the rest of the post: 

An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow

What follows is my open letter back to Dylan Farrow: 

Dear Dylan, 

I can only imagine how much the media’s fawning over your alleged abuser, Woody Allen’s, recent honors pains you. Having not been tried and convicted of the crime, I must employ the appropriately legal weasel word alleged, but I want to tell you that, from the moment I first heard the allegations in which you attempted to tell the world about what he had done to you, I believed you–word for word. I personally have no doubt, not the slightest, that rather than being a fragile child, you would have been a credible witness on the stand, fully capable of facing him down in a court of law. The fact that you were never allowed to have your say in a court of law is one of those instances of adding insult to injury. And for those who jump on their soap-boxes saying he’s innocent until proven guilty, let me point out–so are you!

If it’s any consolation, I have not watched a Woody Allen movie since you came forward, and I won’t. The very sight of the man’s face gives me the heebie-jeebies.

If misery loves company, here’s my story, because the same thing happened to me:

I must have been seven or eight at the time. That summer, my family traveled from Arizona to South Dakota to visit relatives, including my father’s parents who still lived on a farm back there. One afternoon, Grandpa Busk took my younger brother and me down to the lake to go fishing. While my brother busily fished away, Grandpa came over to help me “bait my hook.” His “help” had nothing whatever to do with fishing. Zero. What he did to me, with my brother sitting only a few feet away, was mild compared to what was done to you, and it only happened that once. Nonetheless, the shame and anguish I felt were similar to yours. 

Leaving the lake, I ran, crying, back up to the house. On the way, I discovered that a bloodsucker from the lake had attached itself to my leg. The single thin stream of blood running down my calf from the bloodsucker’s bite added to the horror. I remember asking my mother if I could take a bath. She was surprised by the request since it was the middle of the afternoon, but, ascribing my wanting a bath to the presence of the bloodsucker, she let me take one anyway.

I knew what Grandpa had done to me was wrong. Did I tell anyone? No, I didn’t have your courage. I figured if it was my word against the word of a pillar of the Lutheran Church in Marvin, South Dakota, who was going to believe me? And so I kept quiet. I felt dirty and damaged, but I kept quiet. I think that sense of being damaged goods affected the direction my whole life, including my unfortunate marriage to the first man I dated. I suspect that I said yes to him out of a sense of absolute gratitude that anyone at all might be interested in me.

Years passed.  I was in my late twenties and teaching on the reservation when Grandpa Busk died.  I did not attend his funeral.  A few weeks later, when my father came to Three Points to visit, he mentioned that he couldn’t understand why none of his daughters had attended his father’s funeral. I couldn’t speak for my sisters, but I knew why I had declined to go. And so, taking a deep breath, I told him what had happened to me.  When I finished, my father was aghast.  He stood up, strode across the living room, and then stood for a long time gazing across the valley at Kitt Peak, the mountain the Tohono O’odham call Ioligam.  At last he turned back to me and declared, “If I had known about it at the time, I would have taken a gun and shot the son of a bitch!!!”

Dylan, my father’s simple statement, like your mother’s unwavering support, sustained me. It turned out I had been right not to tell. I suspect that my mother would have had a tough time raising seven kids if her husband had been in the slammer for taking his pedophile father off the board.

I think that conversation with my father–my admittance of my grandfather’s abuse and his my father’s instant and unconditional acceptance of what I said–was the beginning of my own recovery. I told my father, and he believed me, end of story. We found out much later that there was far more to my grandfather’s pedophilia than anyone knew. My father was in his mid-eighties when he learned that he had a half sister who was six years his junior. The half-sister’s mother, a relative of some sort, had been molested by Grandpa Busk as well. When she became pregnant, her family pulled up stakes and moved to California. No one, including my father, knew about it until close to eighty years later.

I suspect that Grandma Busk was well aware of Grandpa’s proclivities. I know that for ten years, while my father and his brothers were growing up, my grandparents didn’t speak to one another. Now I have a pretty clear understanding of what might have caused such a long term rift, but like the people you mentioned in your open, letter Grandma Busk turned a blind eye, too. In fact, I read just today, that one of those people chooses to stay away from your “family” difficulty. I suspect there were plenty of people in South Dakota who knew about Grandpa Busk and chose not to “interfere.” I do not thank them.

It’s no accident that the first book I ever published is a Children’s Personal Safety Book called It’s Not Your Fault. I’m sure you can guess the subject. When I went to Bisbee, Arizona, on my first book tour, the local newspaper scheduled a reporter to come interview me. I had three books out then, It’s Not Your Fault, my book of poetry, After the Fire, and the first Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty.

At the time, my father’s older brother, my Uncle Harold, was visiting in Bisbee. Uncle Harold had suffered a massive stroke. Aphasia made conversing with him difficult, but my mother faithfully read the newspaper to him every morning. Before the scheduled interview, I took my father aside. I told him that he and I had already had a chance to discuss the situation with Grandpa Busk in a way I hadn’t and couldn’t discuss it with Harold. I told my dad that, if he wanted me to, I would steer the reporter away from discussing It’s Not Your Fault. “No,” my father told me. “This is important. You say whatever you need to say!”

And so I did. I told the reporter. A few days later, my story turned up in The Bisbee Daily Review. Days after the story appeared, my mother received a phone call from a friend of hers, a woman named Pearl Wilcox. Pearl and her husband hailed from the same part of South Dakota we did, and they had moved to Bisbee years before my parents did. Pearl’s message to my mother was short but brief. “Judy should be spanked for saying such terrible things about Henry!”

Really? I was 41 years old, but from Pearl’s point view, I had no business telling the world about what my grandfather had done to a helpless child thirty-three years earlier. In her mind, the abuser was the real victim. He should have been given a free pass, and I should have had sense enough to continue maintaining my discreet silence!

You may or may not, read my books, Dylan, but it’s no accident that Anne Corley, a haunting character in my first mystery, Until Proven Guilty, is a vigilante who makes it her business to travel the country taking out child molesters wherever she goes. The subject of child molestation turns up often in my books, hiding here and there in the background. Writing those stories is a way of coming to terms with what happened to me. Because I write mysteries, as opposed to “literary fiction,” you can count on it that the bad guy always gets what’s coming to him–or her, as the case may be.

When I speak to teenagers, I often mention what happened to me. I know, for instance, that the majority of the kids who end up running afoul of the law have a history of childhood sexual abuse lurking in their backgrounds. I tell them, “Look, the same thing happened to me. It’s not an excuse to be a failure or a crook. Get over it. Move on. Live your life.”

I, too, am happily married now. I’m thankful for my supportive husband, but I’m also thankful for my parents–parents, who, when told however tardily of what had happened to me, took me at my word!

So keep on telling your story, Dylan. People need to hear it. Kids who are being victimized need to hear it.

If I happen to be tuned in to the Oscars when Woody Allen is given his “prestigious” award, I’ll put the TV on pause and then fast forward through that presentation. I refuse to have any part of lionizing someone who would do what he did to a helpless child. 

And shame on the members of the Academy for honoring him.

To quote Pearl Wilcox, they “ought to be spanked!”

13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Dylan Farrow

  1. Thank you so much. The survivors need an assumption of innocence until proven guilty. I spent my child hood in terror of being pregnant with my fathers child (I did not know he had a vasectomy or that 6 year olds don’t usually get pregnant). I first tried to kill my self at this age as well. Luckily blankets are not a good way to suffocate. Luckily I kept finding reasons to live until I made it out. A dog, cat, whatever needed my care. Unfortunately when I sought to press charges I was lied to at 17 and told it was too late. Legally I had until 21, but I found out to late. I speak up not for me, but for others so they can know it gets better. You can create a good life, lose the bad and chose family.

  2. When we met in Sun Lakes on your tour we talked about first husbands and the similarity but I think now we must have led parallel lives. I was molested by my stepfather and didn’t tell until he went after my sister. My mother talked to him and he said he would stop and never mentioned what he had done to me. As far as she was concerned it was over. I don’t think she ever believed he did it. It screwed up my life making me choose the wrong man also. My dad when I told him also wanted to kill him but like you I wanted my dad with me not in jail. Every now and then something reminds me an it is just pure pain but I have like you a very wonderful second husband that is there for me. It did make us stronger and we did survive. You know I think we could have been good friends. God Bless

  3. I have not watched a Woody Allen film since his relationship with Soon Yi became public not will I ever again! I have nothing but contempt and disgust for him, as I do for all those who prey on children.

  4. I would have stopped watching Woody Allen movies after the stepdaughter thing but I had never started! Sorry.

    Wow, you really put it out there. Mia has a lot to answered. A father is one thing but moms should be very careful of stepfathers and their relatives. So many revolving doors in some households these days, I am surprised we aren’t hearing more of this. I remember there was one beauty title holder who came out with her story and her mother didn’t believe her, until the less dramatic sister told of the same experience. I am so pleased that your father believed you immediately. I’ll bet subconsciously he knew something was wrong. Vigilance is the answer. Church, neighborhoods, relatives, friends.

  5. Loved the blog. It explains why I never liked Woody Allen. He always struck me as sleazy and creepy. I’ve never watched any of his movies.

  6. J A ,
    Your open letter to Dylan was very moving, comforting as well as healing on a personal note. I was sexually abused at the age of two to five. My experience has been somewhat bittersweet. I was able to share this with my Father prior to his passing in 2010. It changed my life totally. The guilt I felt had been lifted once I shared this with my Dad. He listened and it was so healing and comforting. He said I did not know. How, did I not know. I was quickly comforting him by talking about what happened in the Catholic Church. How they gain your trust. For years I wanted to spare my Dad of this pain. I did not think anyone would believe me. I kept it hidden for 40 years. The priceless gift I had also received was my son and his wife and son came to live with at my home for a year due to job loss. His son was two. It really hit home how I had no control or power of what happened at such a young age. The guilt and blame that I carried for so long was not mine.
    In closing, I have no doubt my Dad would have not have hesitated to kill the man (prisoner) who hurt me. My Dad was the Sheriff at the time. In the 60s the county jails in our state often had a residence attatched, where the Sheriff and family lived. It was a small town. We had town drunks that were often put in jail to dry out as they say. One such drunk was homeless and begun to do many things like cutting the lawn, washing windows, planting, painting. He appeared harmless in the eyes he wanted to earn trust with. He lived in our basement. We had a playroom in another area of the basement. When my brothers and sister were in school during the day and my mom the matron was cooking, cleaning. I was the child playing alone in the playroom. I still remember hiding behind boxes and holding my breath so he could not hear me.

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed and brave letter. I too am an author, and write about things that are hard to face in real life. One’s adversity as one journeys alone through difficult paths usually find their way to the written page. Your honesty and acceptance of your situation is to be commended, and your struggles and successes are applauded by me and many. I once did a survey with my high school students of writers they chose to research, and almost 90 % of the writers they read had some sort of loss, abuse or physical trauma in their lives. Something triggers us to write, and perhaps it is dealing with the events that we had no power over in our childhood. Writing is a tool to affirm our courage to live, and be successful despite the horror and despair that without our permission or knowledge crept into our beings.

  8. WHEW!!! That’s what describes my feelings as I read your open letter & the responses. I honestly thought I was the only one who does NOT like Woody Allen. So many times, in discussions I hear lots of “Oh, I love woody Allen & his movies”
    I can NOT make myself watch anything with him in it, about him or anything he has directed. Accolades given to him are undeserved, in my opinion. As Gloria P. stated, I too have always found him sleazy & creepy.
    Thanks to you all for posting your comments & to you Ms. Jance for your open letter.

  9. I have read most of your books and been a fan for years, but this post makes me love you, J.A.! As for the world of Hollywood and their honors, those people have suspicious and warped motives. It’s a shame so many look to entertainers as gurus of wisdom.

    God bless you and Dylan, too.

  10. I was reading some more on this. I don’t know how I missed it because I was living in CT at the time. I think that Woody Allen has a big problem.

    I have never written about a close call my sister and I had when walking home from school on a country road. The man who stopped and offered us a ride home said, “I know your dad.” I thought that was a dumb thing to say because in our small town everyone knew everyone else. Of course, he knew my dad and my dad knew him. Thank goodness we had enough sense not to get in his car altho it made him angry. I can’t remember if we told Mom when we got home. I am the only one still alive and have never told anyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *