Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dylan Tarnished

Bert G. Hornback
playing dress-up
When a twisted man shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary, not one person said “there are two sides to every story.” Clearly, some stories do not extend beyond the brutal facts. But all too often accounts of rape or child molestation stir up a chorus of “there are two sides to every story.” 

Sadly, we are there once again.

Just hours after Dylan Farrow published a detailed account of being molested as a child by her adoptive father, Woody Allen, her story was clumsily challenged by a Robert Weide, Allen’s friend and biographer.

The tragedy of this situation is that, unlike brutal cold-blooded murder, brutal cold-blooded rape and child molestation often does not leave enough blood stains and other physical evidence to eliminate all doubt that it occurred—which is no mere coincidence; rapists and molesters plan it that way.

So the victims—those brave enough to speak up—are the ones put on the defensive.

“She was only seven. How could she remember so much detail? Her vindictive mother must have planted those stories in her head. They were going through a nasty divorce you know.”

“Woody wouldn’t rape his daughter in the attic. He’s a well known claustrophobic.” (Read the article. Weide actually makes this argument.)

And the old standby, “What were you wearing when he attacked you?”

Sometimes, though, molesters get careless and hand evidence over to their victims … victims like me.

Bert G. Hornback--Charles Dickens scholar, former English professor at the University of Michigan, and best man at my parent’s wedding--molested me from the time I was 12 until I was 16 when I finally punched him in the mouth.

Like all child molesters, Bert was an expert at isolating me from my family so he could molest me. How expert? How about “A Birthday Trip to Europe with Just You and Your Uncle Jerry!” We called him Uncle Jerry then. I have different names now.

“Isn’t this wonderful, John? Jerry wants you to spend two weeks in England with him on a house boat travelling on the River Thames.”

“But I don’t want to go to England. I hate traveling.”

“You’re going, John. That’s final.” That was my dad. He was a pilot for TWA and couldn’t understand why any kid wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on a houseboat with his Uncle Jerry.

So I went.

I’ll save the details for another post. The short story is I woke up one night next to Bert in the boat’s “double bed” to find him molesting me. A little context: Bert was over six feet tall and weighed 240 easy. Even though I had just turned 16, I was a lot smaller. I hadn’t yet broken 100 pounds. But at this point I figured I had nothing to lose. So I made a fist with my right hand and smacked the bastard right in the chops. He harrumphed in shock then slowly rolled over and “went back to sleep,” or whatever. I raced out of there and spent the rest of the night sitting in the galley.

Now, if we were following social protocol, right about now some fair and balanced unmolested adult would challenge my account and remind me the “there are two sides to every story.” And without any evidence, it really would come down to his word against mine. And he was my GODfather, a respected author, former English professor at the University of Michigan, best man at my parent’s wedding, and blah, blah, blah.

But as I mentioned, I have proof and it’s time I shared it with you.

Following is a heavily redacted but very real email exchange with the guy who molested me when I was a kid, Bert G. Hornback. If you google him, don’t forget the “G.” There are other Bert’s out there.

THE MOLESTER: I'm sorry your memories of our friendship are so horrible. … We kissed, but innocently.  The first time we ever kissed a lot was the summer you and Michael and Mary Beth and I went to Notre Dame … The first day we were there we kissed a lot.  You were fourteen then?

The summer you and Michael and I went to London and Paris was very innocent.  The next summer you and I were in London.  We went boating on the Thames, and we stayed in London.  At night, in London, I would XXXXX.  Nothing more, nothing sexual.  One night I XXXXX … You said "Don't," and I removed my hand.

That's the closest I ever came to molesting you, John.  And I have never come that close to molesting anybody else. I am sorry that you are so angry. … Yes, I loved you--as I would have loved a son. … I tried to help and protect you. That's my honest understanding of our past, John.

ME: I am too enraged to refute your lies point by point, but surely you remember that I hit you in the face when I woke up to find you XXX. … And your "he was 14 defense" ain't gonna cut it, chum. I broke 100 pounds when I was 16. What did you weigh back then, chum? 240? …

MOLESTER: I have no idea where all this comes from, John.  I am sorry.  YOUR MEMORY AND MY MEMORY HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON. I'm very sorry to read what you allege.  IT ISN’T TRUE, WHATEVER YOU MAY BELIEVE. (Emphasis mine)

ME: Shove it, clown.

I’ll share the rest of the email later. But I am posting this much because I want people to understand that child molesters are cunning. And obviously deluded. So when a person, especially a young person, says that someone did ANYTHING suspicious to him or her, believe the kid. Every time.


  1. I admire your strength and courage, John. Also a victim as a child, I know what it takes to stand up and be heard in the face of your abuser's denials. The final insult to us has always been the taunt, "No one will ever believe you." But, in speaking up we can hopefully create an environment where our abusers can never again have that kind of access to young people. I wish you peace.

  2. Thanks, Jan. I think we should start something big. There ARE a lot of us after all.

  3. Our numbers are legion. Thank you for speaking out. So many victims either don't have a voice, can't find a voice, or won't talk out of fear and shame. Besides my own personal experience and that of one of my children, I also worked with sexually abused children and adult survivors for over 20 years as a therapist. Anything we can do to give us all a voice against this pervasive evil is a move in the right direction. Thank you, John, for your courage and your heart.

    1. Thanks for your note, Nancy. I'm sorry you're in the club. I am floored at how many people have been hurt by these bastards. And since I'm getting too old to hunt them all down and beat the crap out of them (mostly kidding) I'm going to try a social media approach.

  4. Thank you for this courageous act of revelation. My own brother and mother refused to believe me when I told them about my maternal grandfather's behaviors toward me from age 5 to age 12. To this day, an entire group of extended family members pretend that this child molester was a dedicated and right-living 'man of the cloth' whom others should emulate. To this day, my mother turns a cold shoulder, denying any validaton of the wrong done. I often wonder....when she was a little girl, did he target her as well?

    1. Hi Susan, I think the denial -- especially by your own family -- is the worst part of all this. You may never know if that ... person targeted your mother, but we both know with certainty that he abused other children. Thanks for writing.

  5. I, unfortunately, can relate to your story. Though I was not the victim of abuse my daughter was and still is. Although now, she is a victim of her memories. My ex father-in-law began molesting her when she was 7. She did not come forward until she was 11. Her memories were and are so vivid that she "does" remember the clothes he was wearing everytime. She also remembers the shows that were on TV. Every detail was so exact and not one word of her abuse ever changed. She was interviewed many times for inconsistencies because their thought was there was no way an 11 year old child could remember things that exact. I could go on and on but what I am getting at is, I NEVER doubted her for 1 second. Children need to that if they are hurting, being bullied, threatened or abused that someone, anyone will protect them. I guess I was a victim, in a sense; I beat myself up for many years (my daughter is now 23) because I did not protect her from someone I should have been able to trust the most with my child. Her grandparent. Like I said before, she is now 23 and married with 2 sons, happy and healthy but she will always be a victim of her memories.

    1. I just don't understand why this crime is met with such skepticism. ... So sorry to hear about your daughter. I'm enraged on her behalf.

    2. Remember Jerry Sandusky, everyone said the man could not possibly do that. Why he is such a"pillar of the community".
      Woody Allen is" such an artist, he could not possibly do those things," I am just saying do not be so quick to defend the man. True the whole Farrow/Allen/Sinatra thing was a weird ball of wax, but don't defend him or renounce what Dylan is saying. Just watch how this plays out. If we are lucky, justice may be served, the truth may come to light like in the Sandusky case.

    3. I'm not even sure how I found your blog but here I am. First, my heart goes out to you for what you went through. The older I get the more (and more and more) adult survivors of child sexual abuse I meet. It's kind of overwhelming, really.

      You said in your reply to a comment "I just don't understand why this crime is met with such skepticism". I'm not a professional at all but I have a couple of theories on this.

      In some cases, I think it's horrified unbelief that adults could actually do that to kids. This reaction would almost exclusively come from someone who (thankfully) never experienced it. For them, it's as impossible to get their heads around as it was for most of us when hear things like the details of the Jeffrey Dahmer case.

      In other cases, I think it's fake-skepticism coming from other pedophiles out there knowing full well if they cast doubt on the story (whoever's story it is), that negative attitude gains momentum. They have a personal stake in the general public NOT believing a child who says they've been abused. Purely based on my own subjective experiences in talking with adult survivors, plus reading about this kind of abuse more and more in the news, I am inclined to believe there are possibly a LOT more pedophiles living among us than any of us care to think about. Of course I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong on this.

      Just wanted to share a couple thoughts on that. I hope you don't mind.

    4. That's an extremely thoughtful hypothesis, Carla. Thanks. I have received many emails from people--many of whom were/are good friends--who recounted being molested as kids ... many of whom I went to school with. Had we all know about each other's plight, I know we could have banded together to fight back. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for this, John. It does much to honor the child (you were) and other children who have suffered, my wife being one. We had been married for over 20 years before I was made aware of the sexual abuse commited in her childhood, and ten years later before I had the chance to cheer her on when she went public with her accusations, facts that she had kept secret since being gang-raped by three uncles at the age of nine, never telling because she feared no one would believe her. When the time finally arrived for her to speak out in her early thirties, all of the accused then being deceased, to behjold the results unfold was yet another painful learning experience, for us both: she was right, no one believed her. Or said they didn't. So, it appears the nine-year-old was much wiser than I originally knew afterall...

    I believe, both in my wife then and Dylan Farrow, now.

    1. I'm really sorry to hear about your wife. She's lucky she's got you at her side. An astonishing number of people have contacted me to say that their family, schools, and even the police either dismissed the attacks as untrue or not worth reporting. It's no wonder kids are afraid to speak out.

    2. My uncle molested me at approximately age 4. My brother molested me when I was about 6-7 (he would have been 15-16). My brother confronted me with this decades later, he had "just remembered" it and wanted to talk to me about it. He said he was sorry and couldn't believe *I* remembered it. Couldn't believe I never said anything.

      Who would have believed me, the least respected child, over the Golden Child?

      No one.

  7. My daughter's father molested her on a visitation after he and I had split up. She was 8 when she told me that it had happened. I wish I didn't believe her. It would be so much easier to think that my daughter was a liar, than to know she was molested. This whole Woody Allen thing has me crazy. It drags everything back to the surface for me. I hate that this happened to my daughter, I hate that this happened to Dylan Farrow and I hate that it happened to you, John.

    I was in a blind rage after finding out what happened to my girl. The day I found out was the day I burned her father's "parent card." He knew to stay away from me, because if it hadn't been for the fact that I couldn't go to jail and not be there to raise her, I would have killed him. This was 26 years ago and we were not able to have him prosecuted, because the police believed her, but did not feel she could prove the element of intent, since her father pretended to be asleep while he groped her. To this day I wish I could believe my daughter was a liar. It would be so preferable to believing her father did that to her.

    About 3 months after I discovered this and after we got through with the police, we were driving along one day when my daughter turned to me and said, "I've decided to forgive Jon." I was shocked and said, "You're going to forgive him?" She said, "I'm not forgiving him because I like him or want to ever see him again, because I don't. I'm forgiving him because I don't like the way it feels for me to be angry all the time." We got away from the entire situation, then two years later I met a good man, we got married, and he adopted her. I've tried and tried to forgive Jon, but I haven't been able to, so far.

  8. Your daughter is amazing. It's been over 38 years for me and I still want to kill the bastard (which, for all you kids reading at home, is not healthy. But that's how I feel still.) It's people like your daughter who keep us all moving forward. It's her heart that should be celebrated. Jon, he needs to be forgotten. (Or imprisoned, but that's just me.)

  9. This happen to me also. Luckily I wasn´t raped cuz I stood up on the situation until he went away but....I can still remember every detail also. And it made me furious!! everytime I think of that, I get angry. I strongly believe that is why I have such short temper now a days. It is something I will never forget, and also, he was a master of lies...he managed to twist the story and after a year he greeted me at a wedding as if nothing happened. Smiling, he aproached to me saying "hey, do you remember me?" pffff of course I remember you, asshole. I will always remember, saddly.

  10. Okay here's a question. I know when I was 9 to 11, I engaged in some consensual sex play with a few other kids, both male and female. No sex, I did not even know what sex was, but fondling etc.

    I don't mean to be offensive. But do kids that age have some sort of sex drive? And is that why it is, that they are conflicted about being molested? I know at that age I had some sort of preliminary sex drive. I was never molested by an adult. But actually, a little bit, I tried to seduce some adult males, although it never came to much, or anything.

    I am just trying to bring up some new points that I never see discussed, and think should be discussed. Not trying to be offensive.

  11. I was abused by a male neighbor twice. Once at 4 and once at 12.
    I was abused by a female neighbor (who was also abused by the male neighbor when she was younger)

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this story so bravely, John. I'm so sorry any adult exists on this planet who could even imagine betraying and abusing a child in this way, but I know there are so very many. You're a very courageous and good person. I, too, am baffled at peoples' ridiculous attempts to have a "balanced view" of this awful event. I've never seen so many willing apologists for a pedophile--so willing to believe the most flimsy, unsupported claim as long as their hero is exonerated. At what cost? Even knowing how constantly we fail children and women in these cases? It's shameful. I've been absolutely disgusted in the last week. I knew Woody Allen was a disgusting creep, but I'm so upset to see so many people defend him and disbelieve an obviously traumatised and haunted woman.

    Thank you again for this. Take care!

  13. Thank you for sharing this. Ever since reading the Dylan Farrow open letter, I have been dealing with friends and acquaintances claiming to want to know the "other side". It really has been a major trigger for me. As a survivor of incest myself. I also confronted ONE of my abusers. He was, at the time, being accused of molesting his girlfriend's kids. My brother and I decided we had to say something in order to protect those girls. During that time, I was accused of ruining his life and when I confronted him myself, he said, "I just don't remember that! I was always good to you!" I told him to dig deep because I know it happened. Abusers don't typically fess up. EVER. I don't know why I thought he would just apologize when I confronted him. But I was genuinely surprised. The other abuser in my family , I have not spoken to in years and I don't intend to do so. I am in a position now where I am "the black sheep". I don't go to family reunions and basically have had to start all of my own traditions. But it's what you have to do... I have to protect MY children.

    1. I am a survivor of family incest, too. I am also the "black sheep" -- grew up as family scapegoat; putting me down sure made them feel better about themselves. My family is toxic, so I also keep contact to a minimum. Healthier for me. I have friends who are my *real* family.

  14. Thank you for speaking out and sharing John. I admire and appreciate your courage and generosity in doing this. I also appreciate the stand you are taking for the oppressed and vulnerable, for children and for justice. I was abused by my father, also a "respected educated professional". Up until his death, he always denied what he did to me, as abusers almost universally do. I totally understand what you say about the "two sides to every story" rubbish. Sure, there are two sides and here they are: The truth - that the abuse actually took place and then the predictable denial, minimisation, lies and projection of blame by the offenders. The projection of blame onto vengeful mothers/others, venomous victims, misguided false memories, fantasies, mental illnesses or whatever else they can scrabble together to back up their professed and predictable innocence.

    The more we speak out as survivors of abuse, the more their nonsense will be exposed! Thank you!

  15. My father was a respected university researcher and now conducts some sort of consulting business. He liked to play "wrestle fight" in our first couple of years in REDACTED, North Dakota, which at that time had a government SUBJECT research facility. By "wrestle," he meant that he would lie on his back on his bed, place me so I was straddling his body, hold my wrists down, and hump up and down. There was something lumpy and uncomfortable beneath my crotch. I assumed it to be his pocket knife in his front jeans pocket, and asked him to take his knife out of his pocket. He replied that he didn't have a knife in this pocket. This happened more than once. On one occasion, my mother entered the bedroom with a load of folded laundry to put away. I had never seen a look of bewilderment like that before. She backed out of the room, but at some point the "wrestle fights" stopped. I believe this was about when I started kindergarten. He continued to "wrestle" with my sister.

    Everyone wondered why I was an unusually anxious child and would raise sexual topics at school at seemingly random times. Odd, isn't it?

    He has cut me out of his life, perhaps preemptively. He now lives in REDACTED, Minnesota with his second wife, her daughter and son-in-law, and their daughter. Who is four. As I was. The wife is a case unto herself, and they collectively decided I sent friends of mine to harass them in their former house in REDACTED, Pennsylvania (where my father used to be the head of an institute at the place where RHYMES WITH LARRY HAND DUSKY worked), by looking in the windows and constantly telephoning them, to what end I do not know. The son-in-law used to communicate with me by email but has ceased to do so. The child is fragile, having required heart surgery soon after birth, and will be homeschooled.

    Sucks to be that kid.

  16. I was orphaned & passed around to various families as a child. I was molested by 2 uncles, 3 clergymen, my grandfather's best friend and a psychiatrist. Needless to say, my 5 children were never allowed to be alone with any adults growing up. No scouts, no sleep-overs...ever. I didn't trust them with anyone including my own siblings. Was I overprotective? Maybe. But I wish someone would have been there to protect me. I wasn't a perfect mom but my children didn't end up as prey for these monsters.

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  18. Found this post while researching for a critique I'm writing on Hornback's article on Dante. Having never heard of him before this project, this isn't what I expected to find. My heart breaks for you and for all the people who have commented with their own stories of abuse. I am currently in the process of supporting my younger sister who is prosecuting my older brother for rape. He was 20 years old; she was ten. He also molested my younger brother, five years later (last summer), but he is not pressing charges.

    For years he made me uncomfortable. Coming into my bedroom when I was getting dressed and not leaving, even when asked. Giving me long, intimate hugs. I avoided spending time alone with him and frequently protested against driving anywhere with him, especially alone. My parents, naive, faulted me for not being "loving" enough and scolded me for my cold attitude towards him. I couldn't put into words what I was afraid of, I couldn't prove - even to myself - that he was actually dangerous. How much is a gut feeling worth? Just before I left for my first year at college he was confiding in me his porn addiction and his self-loathing over it. Of course, I wanted to be a good sister and encourage him. I was rewarded with him pulling out his erect ***** and feeling me up. Did I tell anyone? No, because I - like so many others - made excuses for him. I shouldn't have been talking with him so late at night, I should have set more boundaries, I shouldn't have worn a sports bra under my t-shirt, I shouldn't have tempted him by being a female.

    Even when the horrible truth about my younger siblings came out over last Christmas, my parents tried desperately to believe the best. It was a mistake. He didn't realize what he was doing. He didn't mean it. Can you blame them? How horrifying to find out that one of their children has raped multiple people multiple times - and those people are your children as well!! I can't imagine. The heartbreak is undoubtedly blinding, suffocating.

    As such, I was the one who made the decision to report him and I was the one missing classes on the first day of the semester to call in the grotesque details to the police. Even now, though my parents deny it, I feel as if I am seen as the one who has caused this trouble. I was the first to feel uncomfortable, I was the one my sister confided to, I was the one who reported it. Now he is waiting in jail for his prison sentence to be decided. My parents, already on the brink of poverty, are struggling to pay his lawyer fees. My sister had a state-appointed lawyer.

    The last time I spoke to him, he told me that he had forgiven me for turning him in. I had no response for that. He is convinced in his own conscience that what he did was not "that bad" and that he doesn't deserve any of this. He thinks I did this out of spite. He doesn't understand that it is his own crimes that have brought him here. I did nothing but follow the law and tell the truth. For that he has found it in his heart to forgive me?

    All this to say, child molesters are often family members or very close family friends. And because of this, even if they admit to their crimes (!!!) they are still protected by the very people who should be the most outraged. The injustice, the complexity, the pain of these circumstances is immense. I can only hope that this will become less and less accepted and covered up. I hope for a day when victims will be cared for more than the attacker.

  19. I fortunatly have never been raped as a child.i am always meeting people who ebd up sharing their stories with me and when i tell them that it never happened to me its like they dont believe me and think that i am in denial of some sort. It sucks how common child rape and molestation is i have 6 children and pray that none of them never fall victim to this sick epidemic. I am studying for my bachelors in psychology just so i can counsel and offer therapy to adult suvivors.

  20. I fortunatly have never been raped as a child.i am always meeting people who ebd up sharing their stories with me and when i tell them that it never happened to me its like they dont believe me and think that i am in denial of some sort. It sucks how common child rape and molestation is i have 6 children and pray that none of them never fall victim to this sick epidemic. I am studying for my bachelors in psychology just so i can counsel and offer therapy to adult suvivors.