What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.
After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. 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. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.
Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.
Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.
But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.
What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?
Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.
Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?
Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yusufzai has told the US President that drone strikes in her country are “fuelling terrorism”.
The 16-year-old schoolgirl, who was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen who attacked her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, met Barack Obama and the First Lady in the White House.
"I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," she said after the meeting.
Malala with her father Ziauddin in Edgbaston, Birmingham
"I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fuelling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.
"If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."
The US military and the CIA have carried out hundreds of drone strikes against militant groups in the northwest Pakistan since 2004.
But the Pakistani government complains that they also frequently kill civilians and turn ordinary people against Islamabad and the US.
Malala attracted the anger of the Taliban by writing a blog chronicling the challenges of daily life under the Islamists.
Hundreds of drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan
She is now living in Britain, where she underwent treatment for the injuries sustained in the attack, and campaigns for girls’ right to education.
Mr Obama praised the teenager for her “inspiring and passionate work” and signed a proclamation to mark the International Day of the Girl.
A statement issued by the White House said: “The United States joins with the Pakistani people and so many around the world to celebrate Malala’s courage and her determination to promote the right of all girls to attend school and realise their dreams.”
Malala had been among the favourites for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but the award was handed to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In 2012 Barack Obama condemned Malala’s shooting as “barbaric”. White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “I know that the President found the news reprehensible and disgusting and tragic.”
The teenager was treated in Britain following her shooting in 2012
The Pakistani army retook control of Swat later that year, and Malala received the country’s highest civilian award.
Since then she has been nominated for several international awards for child activists - including the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize which she won earlier in the week - and has written a book about her campaign work called I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban.
Last week Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the group stood by its decision to target the teenager, who he said “targeted and criticised Islam”.
"She accepted that she attacked Islam so we we tried to kill her, and if we get another chance we will definitely kill her and that will make us feel proud.
"Islam prohibits killing women, but excepts those that support the infidels in their war against our religion."