Today we learned that even Barbara Walters can be so blinded by the effects of rape culture that she would be willing to blame a victim of child abuse.
Yesterday’s episode of The View touched on Dylan Farrow‘s open letter to her father, Woody Allen, which accuses the director of sexually abusing her when she was seven years old. Here’s a (potentially triggering) excerpt:
That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.
Walters defended Allen on the show, implying that the accusations against him, true or untrue, are not a reflection on who he is today. She went on to declare Allen “a loving, caring father” and to say that he and his wife Soon-Yi (Mia Farrow‘s adopted daughter, whom Allen helped raise) have “a good marriage.” Walters added that Dylan must be coming forward with this story now because her father is in the news lately, asking, “Does your personal life interfere with the awards you get?”
At that point, Sherri Shepherd interrupted to say, “We’ve heard so many cases of people going, ‘He was the most wonderful person in the world! I would have never thought he would’ve done that.’ … There are so many things that go on behind closed doors. We know that he was with Soon-Yi when she was very young. … He was dating a 17-year-old at one point. You’ve also got a man who’s got a track record.”
Walters interjected, “The fact that he likes younger women, that has nothing to do with it.”
Shepherd argued, “But they’re not of age! Seventeen is not of age.”
And then Walters said, “But it was mutual. To condemn this man now is unfair.”
Wow. That opinion is a thousand shades of not okay. While studies have estimated that only around 6% of rape accusations are proven false, it’s understandable that people are hesitant to condemn one of their heroes for something he only allegedly did. Okay. But whether or not you fully believe the contents of Farrow’s letter, Barbara Walters is stepping into dangerous territory by suggesting that underage girls are able to consent to sex with adult men who are in much, much higher positions of power.
I’m not making a comment about Soon-Yi and Allen’s marriage today– they might be healthy and happy and all good, and it’s really nobody’s business anyway– but when you start down the path of excusing abuse because “it turned out all right,” you’re contributing to a culture in which victims are afraid to come forward and abusers walk free. Seventeen-year-old girls can consent to sex with adult men in many in places in the world– fine. In the United States, they cannot. It doesn’t matter if you personally consider the beginning of their relationship to be abuse; it was illegal. He had the power and he took advantage of that. There aren’t any blurred lines there.
It’s extremely disappointing to see such a respected journalist speaking about issues as important as child abuse without considering how much weight her words carry.