June 26, 2013

The suburban New York child sex abuse case documented in the Oscar-nominated “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003) returned to the spotlight Monday, this time because of a review panel’s finding that Jesse Friedman had in fact been rightfully convicted.

Although the New York Times describes the Friedman case as having come “to symbolize an era of sensational, often-suspect accusations of child molestation,” many aspects – including the 1988 confessions of both the defendant and his father – make it an outlier to the epidemic of day-care cases of that era.

The review panel itself emphasized this distinction, the Associated Press points out:

“The Friedman case has drawn comparisons to the 1980s McMartin Preschool scandal, but the investigators said they ‘were in no way similar.’ In the McMartin case, the report noted, more than 200 preschool children described being sexually abused by teachers, but only after months of highly suggestive questioning by social workers working with prosecutors. The report noted in the Friedman case, the victims were more than twice as old as the McMartin preschoolers and many in the Friedman case disclosed abuse quickly.”

Regardless, there are similarities, too. In an interview with the Village Voice interview last month, Jesse Friedman had this to say about the young computer students who testified against him:

“When I was in prison, my hope always hung on the idea that, give it five or 10 years; once they get to college, once they’re actual adults, once they’re old enough to no longer be living at home with their parents in Great Neck, they will come forward and admit that they lied.

“When (journalist( Debbie Nathan came to visit me, she told me that most of the complainants in the McMartin case publicly affirm that they were raped and abused in the McMartin Preschool. Whereas that case has been thoroughly, completely vetted beyond all doubt that nothing happened. And yet the kids involved believe that they were abused. She said, ‘You really can’t hang your hopes on the idea that the kids know that they lied and that nothing happened. Because they might very well think that something happened.’ “

Do the now-grown child-witnesses in the Little Rascals case “know that they lied and that nothing happened”? Or does the shapeless memory of their supposed abuse remain forever sealed from self-examination?