Sex Offenders at Victims’ Expense

Acclaimed Film Helps Convicted Sex Offenders at Victims' Expense

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Newswise– A prominent coalition of national leaders in the field of child abuse condemns the misinformation in “Capturing the Friedmans”, a film nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best documentary.

According to the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, led by Paul J. Fink, MD, child sexual abuse is a major public health crisis affecting at least 27% of American girls and 16% of boys. Yet the film takes a skeptical attitude toward believing children and misinforms the public about both the Friedman case and child abuse in general.

“The movie minimizes the evidence against Arnold and Jesse Friedman,” notes Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. “While we applaud director Andrew Jarecki for addressing the important topic of sexual abuse,” Dr. Fink states, “a straightforward documentary would have mentioned the 1989 Geraldo episode where Jesse tearfully confessed to the crimes, as well as the confession of a co-defendant, Ross Goldstein, whose existence is not revealed in the film.”

Dr. Joyanna Silberg, PhD, a child psychologist and vice-president of the Leadership Council, notes that the film reinforces popular myths that protect offenders and harm victims. For example, the movie questions the victims’ credibility because they did not come forward immediately. Yet, according to Silberg, delay in disclosing abuse is very common, particularly among boys. Silberg explains that sex offenders use a variety of grooming techniques to make their victims feel complicit in their own abuse. “Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame, many boys hide what has happened to them. The priest scandal illustrates clearly how hard it is for male victims to come forward,” Silberg points out.

Moreover, according to Silberg, the danger to children from this film is not just theoretical, but very real, because the film has been used to raise money to promote the release of convicted sex offenders from prisons around the country. An organization called the NationalCenter for Reason and Justice, whose mission is to support sex offenders who claim to be falsely convicted, held a private screening of the film as a fundraiser in NYC to support their cause. Jesse Friedman, who now claims to be innocent, spoke at this event and director Jarecki was there to film it.

Jesse Freidman is submitting the DVD as part of the supporting evidence for his motion to overturn his conviction. “Evidence, however, is not determined by a film editor who cuts and pastes for dramatic effect,” notes Seth Goldstein, a prominent attorney and forensic expert on child sexual abuse. “That is why we have courts of law.”

“The popularity of the film sends a chilling message to abuse survivors by reinforcing the common fear that they will not be believed,” warns Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at New England School of Law and national expert on victims’ rights. “No matter how intriguing a story it tells, `Capturing the Friedmans’ hurts the most vulnerable among us by misleading the public about sexual crimes against children.”

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is a non-profit scientific organization composed of national leaders in the fields of mental health, law, medicine, public policy, and education. The Council is committed to supporting justice, protecting children, and promoting responsible research and information on child abuse and interpersonal violence. Further information is available at Leadershipcouncil