Family Matters (Miss America by Day Re-Read-5: Why? (continued))

(The following is the 5th in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)

Following on my previous post regarding the “Why?” section of Miss America by Day, in the case of child sexual abuse occurring within a family, we can find a correlate, of the “intimate details” criticism of public disclosure by survivors of their abuse in the “family matter” criticism. The “family matter” criticism involves the assertion that child sexual abuse occurring within a family is a private, family matter with the resolution of any problems arising from such abuse not being served by any public airing or discussion of the survivor’s abuse allegations.

But this family matter line of criticism, as I see it, fails entirely to appreciate the point of view held by the publicly disclosing survivor with respect to their family of origin: for the publicly disclosing survivor (as is also the case for many survivors who never publicly disclose), the family is already completely broken, at least with respect to the survivor’s allegations of abuse. Barring an admission on the part of the abusing family member of the abuse perpetrated on the survivor, and a plea by this abusing family member, made to the survivor, for forgiveness—developments which have little but the remotest possibility of occurring—there is zero chance of resolution and healing within the family.

This is why comments regarding Dylan Farrow’s allegations of child sexual abuse against her adoptive father, Woody Allen, that have expressed hope for a healing that would occur among the members of the Allen-Farrow family (the by now decades-long break-up of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, due in substantial part to this very issue, notwithstanding) would, I think, tend to have as absurdist a ring to many other child sexual abuse survivors as they do to me. Woody Allen’s admission to Dylan Farrow’s allegations of his sexually abusive acts would be a necessary, though by no means sufficient, component of any possible route to the realization of such a family-wide healing, but, given Woody Allen’s absolute assertion and apparent belief belief that he committed no abuse, the possibility of a family-wide healing is as about nil as nil can be, making any hope that the Dylan Farrow’s abuse allegations could somehow find a successful resolution if treated strictly as a private, family matter, forlorn indeed. This would seem to be pretty self-evident whether one believes Dylan Farrow’s allegations of abuse are true (as I do), believes Woody Allen’s denial, or is undecided, but to some commenters it apparently isn’t. (You can read Dylan Farrow’s response to Woody Allen’s New York Times Op-Ed piece denying any abuse here—her response succinctly making a number of the points asserted by commenters who’ve supported her, including various commenters on Woody Allen’s piece.)

An especially off-putting aspect of such “family matter” comments is that they seem to be looking completely over the head of Dylan Farrow, now an adult woman in her late 20s, and her public statement regarding her adoptive father’s abuse, as though Dylan Farrow and her statement were invisible.

The “family matter” line of criticism also misses the societal dimension of public disclosures by survivors of their abuse. One of the major benefits to be derived from such public disclosures is a substantial raising of public awareness of the reality of the occurrence of such abuse, even—in cases such as that of Dylan Farrow—within “respectable,” affluent, high status families. It is to be hoped that such raising of public awareness will result in the creation and strengthening of laws, policies, and public and private initiatives which help protect children from such abuse and assist survivors in their healing. Even if a survivor feels strongly supported by their non-abusing parent and/or one or more other family members, they may still want to publicly disclose for such worthy reasons.

Both the “intimate details” criticism and the “family matters” criticism of public disclosure by child sexual abuse survivors of their abuse appear to be both born out of and to reinforce the continuing virulence of toxic shame and taboo with regard to such disclosure. But it is precisely the suppressive effects of such shame and taboo that we must strive, above all else, to overcome if child sexual abuse is to be dealt with in an enlightened fashion.


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