Allen Vs. Farrow: Addressing Society’s Greatest Taboo

Why incest is so hard to talk about.

  • Dr. Lisa Strohman

Written on Feb 24, 2021

Allen vs. Farrow: Addressing Society’s Greatest Taboo lev radin & s_bukley / Shutterstock

There are no easy ways to start a conversation about incest. Thinking about it is horrific enough even without knowing that somewhere between 5% and 60% of children suffer an incestual encounter in their childhood. 

And if you believe that a 5% - 60% range is unreasonably and unreliably disparate, then you understand the challenges professionals face exposing and battling incest. It is notoriously one of society’s most underreported crimes because of its complex dynamics and the feelings it evokes, including shame, guilt, fear, and conflicted loyalty.  


Many of the questions asked within families following accusations of incest are addressed in Part I of HBO’s new documentary series Allen vs. Farrow: If it’s true, why did Dylan remain silent for so long? Why did her mother Mia Farrow not do more to protect her? How could so many people in this inner circle turn a blind eye if this were really going on?

Those questions may never be answered satisfactorily. Nevertheless, if the allegations against Allen in the documentary are true — and we may never know; remember that Allen denies all allegations and New York State authorities could never prove evidence of child sexual abuse — it's difficult to deny that he is a pedophilic abuser.


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According to the documentary, Allen habitually asked Dylan to suck on his thumb. “I remember sitting on the steps with him in the country house. There was nobody else around, and he was directing me on how to suck his thumb—telling me what to do with my tongue, and I think that lasted a while. It felt like a long time,” Dylan says in the film. 

She also claims In the documentary that Allen slept in the same bed under satin sheets with her while only wearing underwear and that Allen would lay face down with his head in her lap.

Allen refused to take an official polygraph through the police department.


According to National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence Founder and Co-CEO Alan Davis, incest is more likely to occur in a family where at least one parent is a stepparent, and it shows up far more often in homes where both parents are not the natural parents. In Allen’s case, Farrow adopted Dylan as an infant. (Allen, in an interview clip shown in the documentary, expressed a preference for the adopted child to be a girl.)

If as many as 60% of people do experience an incestual encounter during their childhood, it's important that adults recognize the warning signs indicating abuse may exist:

1. Excessive attention being given by an adult to a child. For example, a parent who is constantly having the child on their lap, not allowing them free play, hovering their every move.

2. A child avoiding being around an adult or older child.  Perhaps the child does not want to hug or play with them. Or the child may shun away from affection, placing arms folded in front of their body, turning sideways from embraces.


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3. Sudden, unexplainable shyness or withdrawal by a child. For example, Dylan Farrow reportedly began locking herself in bathrooms. Family members related how a once effervescent and talkative girl became incredibly withdrawn, resembling “a dead animal.”

4. Sudden, unexplainable “acting out” by a child or a need to engage in overly pleasing behaviors. Often school authorities will report inappropriate behaviors, such as aggression towards other kids on the playground, tantrums, or emotional breakdowns.

5. Perfectionism by the child. Victims will try and compensate for the abuse and shame by doing every activity perfectly. Every action is judged as proof that they “are ok.”


Perhaps Allen vs. Farrow will encourage victims to seek the help they need and deserve. And perhaps more knowledge about this global taboo will help others recognize the warning signs and prevent children from becoming victims. At the very least, let’s just hope that this documentary is treated as something more than a salacious than a bit of water-cooler gossip.

Sexual abuse of children and minors is incredibly common. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 have experienced sexual abuse from an adult. Girls are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse; the organization reports that 82% of all victims under 18 are female, and those who do suffer from assault and abuse are more likely to also develop mental health issues like depression, PTSD, and drug abuse.

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Dr. Lisa Strohman is a clinical psychologist and attorney who is widely known for her advocacy and education around mental wellness as it relates to our digital lives. She has established the Digital Citizen Academy, a program offered to schools with an in-home plan that educates, empowers, and inspires balance and prosocial use of technology.