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Presence, support, belief: Dylan Farrow shares her journey to activism

Dylan Farrow will be this year's EmPower Luncheon keynote speaker for The Women's Center in Waukesha. The event honors the courageous voices of survivors, those who advocate for them, and those who speak out to affect change.
Photo by Mia Farrow
Dylan Farrow will be this year's EmPower Luncheon keynote speaker for The Women's Center in Waukesha. The event honors the courageous voices of survivors, those who advocate for them, and those who speak out to affect change.

Dylan Farrow first publicly spoke out about being sexually abused as a child by her father Woody Allen in a New York Times blog post in 2014. She spoke out again in 2017 as the MeToo movement was gaining ground, and last year HBO released the documentary miniseries Allen v. Farrow, which explores the 1992 allegation of sexual abuse and the long-term impacts it has had on Farrow and her family.

Filmmaker Woody Allen has continued to deny accusations that he molested his adopted daughter when she was a child. Despite this and the lack of any legal resolution, Farrow continues to advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, and works with the organization Jane Doe No More.

Farrow will be the keynote speaker for the annual EmPower Luncheon for the Women’s Center of Waukesha on April 27. Ahead of that, she spoke with Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski about her work, starting with what motivated her to shift from a quiet, private life to one of advocacy.

"I think it was in the period that sort of followed my public disclosure of my abuse," Farrow recalls. "What happened in the aftermath was a lot of people reaching out to me ... talking about their experiences and it really opened my eyes to how widespread of a problem this really is."

For years, Farrow says she felt isolated and remained quiet about her abuse. But once she realized this was something she wasn't alone in, "it made it more of a moral imperative to speak out for all the people that told me their story," says Farrow.

When Farrow's first blog post was released in 2014, she said the public response was extremely negative. But as she's continued to speak out over the years since then, Farrow says there has been a very gradual shift in the narrative one story at a time.

"It’s been years and years and years of experiencing firsthand the change in the dialogue that’s been centered around sexual assault and how we interact with victims and survivors," Farrow notes.

She says seeing the MeToo movement take off was "thrilling," and by the time Allen v. Farrow came out, "it was actually very gratifying to see that my story was being taken seriously and to know that all the facts and evidence was out there in an easily obtainable medium."

Being part of and watching the docuseries was "a bit of a rollercoaster" for Farrow to look back at her younger self. But, she says she tries to be sympathetic and give herself grace in how she navigated the aftermath of her abuse.

Listen to the full conversation between Dylan Farrow and Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski.

To this day people doubt Farrow's story, there has been no apology from Woody Allen and there's also been no legal resolution.

"One of the things that I continue to work on in therapy is the fact that I'm probably never going to get the sense of resolution from this that I want or maybe that I think I deserve. And I have to be OK with that," says Farrow. "I feel like in a lot of ways I have to resolve this within myself and get to a point where I feel like, OK I've had the impact that I wanted and I'm OK with that."

The journey of healing from trauma is continuous for Farrow, but she says two key things that have helped is learning how to be aggressive with self-care and being present in darker moments.

"Allowing myself to sit in that discomfort is obviously very uncomfortable, but it's helped to process everything that's happened. And in the aftermath of that, treating myself carefully, delicately — it's a learned skill," she explains.

Farrow says that using her own power and voice to make change, such as helping to pass the bill SB 654 in California, which prevents unsupervised visitation with parents that have a history of abuse and makes a safe process for child testimony, has been heartbreaking but deeply rewarding.

"The connecting with other survivors is something that I definitely will never find myself regretting," she says. "Because that connection has been, I mean, I can't overstate how important that has been for me to feel part of a community in that sense. I mean, it's a terrible community to belong to, but I've met such incredible people."

Farrow shares that the best thing people can do for survivors of abuse is to create safe spaces for them to feel believed, and that what they've gone through has some meaning.

"I think the most important thing that any survivor can be given is just that presence, that support, and that belief," says Farrow.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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