Yet another unsolicited opinion

February 5, 2014 § 3 Comments

This one really isn’t about Dylan Farrow’s open letter. It’s not about that because that speaks for itself, and eloquently. It’s about the discussion that keeps surfacing, then receding – the one people want to have about the purpose of speaking out years down the road. The discussion that drives me into a rage so profound I can barely see.

I’ll lay out the situation from my position – when I was ten, someone my family knew and trusted began raping me. It continued, off and on, for three years. It was not very often – maybe ten times in total, maybe less. I remember specific incidents – the first time, and the last time – but not the overall course of events. It was not my mother nor my father, but someone they had no reason to doubt, and I never told anyone. (I only mention that it was not my parents to forestall any guessing games.) I don’t know why it started, or why it ended. I mostly remember fear, and disgust, and whispers about how nobody could find out or they’d blame me, send me away, and I believed and I was silent. I’ve talked about this before, but not easily or well, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to talk about it comfortably. So I admire Dylan Farrow’s courage and willingness to stand up. And many of her details ring true – in my case, it was a dirtbike that I really wanted that lured me outside the first time.

I am no lawyer, I don’t know how good or bad the case against Mister Allen was at the time, nor how likely it is that it could be brought to court now. I suspect it is very unlikely. I understand that Mister Allen will likely never see a day of court time. And because people have used this as an excuse to ask me “Why should she bring it up now, just to ruin him?” I’ll give you some answers from my perspective.

She should bring it up whenever she feels comfortable doing so, because it doesn’t go away. It’s been thirty plus years for me and it hasn’t gone away. It is indelible, scars that no one can see by looking at you but that you know are there, can feel as if they were just cut at the strangest times, brought into focus by scents you’ve forgotten, sights that only have the barest connection – your brain is a storehouse that will disgorge the whole awful memory again when you least expect and all you can learn to do is cope with it, expect it, not freak out when there’s a knock on the doorways of perception and the worst experience of your life comes strolling in to say hello while you’re out in public surrounded by strangers. Let me give you just a few reasons why ‘bringing it up now’ is something you might do:

  • To release the strain of pretending everything is okay.
  • A desire to have their story heard.
  • To let someone else know that their experience is shared, that someone else can understand what they went through.
  • A need to feel like they’ve taken a step away from being a victim.
  • To puncture the delusion we have as a society that we don’t know anyone who has been through this. You most likely do.
  • Wanting to find someone else who can understand and accept them.
  • To try and reclaim our sense of self, of ownership of our lives.
  • To put the shame and fear back onto the fucking rapist, instead of forcing the victim to carry it alone.
  • Any other goddamn reason the person who had the experience may have to share it.

This idea that a survivor of sexual violation should somehow only share her or his story when there’s a tangible, legal outcome at the end – that they should only speak up if they can actually expect their rapist to go to jail for it – is wrongheaded. The reason a victim speaks out belongs to that victim, and how they speak out also belongs to them. I personally will never share the name of my rapist or his exact relationship to me. I’ve chosen not to for two reasons – one being that he is dead, and thus the only people who can be hurt by that revelation are those that knew and loved him, and the other being that is my way of stealing power from him. He doesn’t get named by me, ever. That’s my choice, in my case.

It should never be expected to be a universal one. “Why speak up now, it just looks like you’re trying to ruin him/her” – first off, if my rapist were alive today, ruining him would be the least I could want to do to him. The rapist losing his or her good name isn’t some unforeseen calamity, it’s a consequence of what they did, namely, raping someone. Rape is already one of the most under reported crimes. I didn’t report mine, for instance, because I was a scared stupid child and I believed what I was told – believed it was my fault, believed my parents would turn away from me in disgust. I believed this because I didn’t know any better, and how would I have, when no one talks about it and when people try and talk about it, we say “Why bring it up now and try and go back to pretending? How could I have been expected to know any differently? If we make speaking up a shameful thing, which should only be done when we know we can expect our rapists to go to prison and never besides that, we contribute to the ignorance that led me to make the wrong decision.

There’s no guarantees, of course – if I had gone to my parents, or another relative, or a counselor, there’s no guarantee I would have been believed, that some psychiatrist or cop wouldn’t have grilled my 10 year old self until I was confused and scared and weeping and said “Well, clearly he has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality” and that would have been the end of it, and he would have been free to live his life and people would have said “Why bring it up now” when I protested that everyone treated my rapist like a trusted member of the family. If that had happened, however, I’d like to believe I would be brave enough to say “Fuck this, and fuck you” – there’s no reason why someone should get to rape you, and then live a happy and fulfilled life why you suffer.

As for the question of Woody Allen’s guilt or innocence and/or the relationship it has to his art, well, as I said before I’m no lawyer. I choose to believe Dylan Farrow’s account, but that’s probably made easier by the fact that I don’t care for Woody Allen’s movies anyway, and the fact that he married the daughter of his lover of over a decade after having an affair with her while still in that relationship. There will be no consequences to him by my choosing to believe his daughter – I know this, and I’ve accepted it. All I can do is avoid him and his art. If you like his art, well, I can only say what I said when the R. Kelly situation unfolded – great art can be made by awful people. Phil Spector made some of the best music of the 20th century, but he still murdered Lana Clarkson. You’ll have to make your own decision on whether or not loving Annie Hall means loving Woody Allen – I’d argue that you can appreciate the art without embracing every act of the artist.

But make no mistake – the only reason a survivor of sexual violation needs to share her or his story is that they feel they are ready to, and that they want to. All else is personal.

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§ 3 Responses to Yet another unsolicited opinion

  • Emma says:

    Very powerful–thank you for writing it and posting it.

  • […] Matthew Rossi on why survivors of sexual abuse may wait years before going public. May be hugely tri… […]

  • Maryalee says:

    I have said before that you are a very brave man for talking about these things that have left such a profound mark on our life. You have provided a voice for thousands others who have had to experience the same horror that you went through. You have given a voice to those who are unable to this day to speak out, still imprisoned by the fear and the shame. You have given a voice to those who will never be able to speak out, who have taken their pain and suffering to their graves. You have given us their voices, and we can never be the same for it. We should not be given witness to these horrors and remain the same. We should do whatever we can as a society and as a people to put an end to these torments, that innocent people should never be victims to them ever again.

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