Documentary�s Haunting Tale of Abuse
The late Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, admitted to
police in 1988 that they had sexually molested 13 children during computer
classes in the Friedman home in Great Neck. The documentary film "Capturing the
Friedmans" is based on their case.
This is an open letter to the 13 former children:
You are the invisible actors in "Capturing the Friedmans." If this flawed
documentary film has a certain "haunting" brilliance, as many movie critics
have said, you are what haunts it.
Your faces are never seen but you inhabit every frame of the film. Every
recrimination between father and mother and sons is about you. Every silence is
filled with you.
Every closeted emotion borne by members of the Friedman family, as
filmmaker Andrew Jarecki documents the disintegration of their fragile nuclear
unit, pulses with fear about the power of you to destroy Arnold and his son in
The "Capturing" movie, which has already won many awards and is considered
a likely Academy Award nominee, is basically about the agonizing process by
which father and son decide to avoid that courtroom confrontation with you.
They decide, instead of facing you (and although the movie neglects to
mention him, the testimony of a teenaged friend of Jesse's who participated in
the abuse and became a prosecution witness) to plead guilty and cut the best
deals they can get.
The movie suggests that an injustice was thereby done:
It suggests that police over-reacted to what was no more than a collection
of child pornography in Arnold Friedman's house; that there may have been no
assaults at all; that, in effect, you might have been coerced or hypnotized
into making it all up.
Arnold Friedman died in prison.
But with funding from Jarecki, who apparently became a believer while
making the film, lawyers for Jesse Friedman, now 34 and free after serving 13
years behind bars, filed a motion in Nassau County Court last week to vacate
the younger Friedman's conviction.
They claim that Nassau County police coerced you and badgered you because
they believed the Friedmans were at the center of the biggest child sex ring
They don't say it was all your fault. They claim that some of you were
visited in your homes by detectives 15 times before you remembered what
happened to you on Picadilly Road. One of you is alleged to have jumped up and
down screaming that Friedman had done nothing to you before police, on a
subsequent visit, obtained your statement that something had happened.
To be frank, you are on the spot.
If an injustice was done to the Friedmans, you are honor bound to undo it.
There is no crime in admitting to an untruth wrung from you by a persistent
detective when you were 9 years old, if that is what happened.
If on the other hand no injustice was done, you have to defend yourselves -
and other victims like you - and to explain to those unfamiliar with the
sexual abuse of children why the cops were right to come back, and come back,
until you were able to talk.
You would not be the first kids who denied there was anything wrong when
there was everything wrong.
We saw boys older than you - freshmen on the Mepham High School football
team, for instance - who denied and denied, and probably would still be denying
today if one of them had not been betrayed by the blood from his own injuries.
In the court papers filed last week, there are citations about studies into
the unreliability of "recovered memory" and other allegedly coerced testimony.
There are also studies, however, showing how children behave in the
aftermath of sexual assaults. And they show children are extremely reluctant to
talk. If they have been threatened with harm - as the police say you were by
the Friedmans - kids are terrified that something horrible will befall them and
their families if they tell.
It may be unfair to put you on the spot like this. You are all in your 20s.
Some of you may be successfully launched in the world. Some of you may still
struggle with shadows cast by the events in your early lives.
But I feel that you have been abused many times over in this story -
whether by the Friedmans, and by this movie, and by the timing of this
filmmaker-funded appeal just weeks before the selection of Academy Awards; or
if the police really coerced you into telling untruths, then by the police.
But the haunting quality you give to that movie seems to be haunting a
larger canvas now. It has grown to include the landscape of all the kids who
have ever been sadistically used by adults and then forced into ghostly,
haunting backstory roles in this world.
You were children when this started. You are adults now. You can defend
yourselves now - and those kids you used to be. Do it.