Monday, November 03, 2014

Capturing the Truth

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice
I’m sure what I am about to say will be misconstrued no matter what kind of disclaimer I make. But as a seeker of truth I feel compelled to talk about it. So… here goes. First the disclaimer.

I can think of few things more devastating than being sexually abused. The evidence of such devastation among survivors is plentiful. I’m told that it is something that stays with you the rest of your life. 

Repercussions for a victim run the gamut of human behavior. From learning to get on with their lives (e.g. getting married, having children, and a good career - and living a completely normal life despite the constant internal suffering)… to going OTD, becoming anti social (abusing drugs and alcohol, casual unprotected sex and generally dropping out of society)... to extreme depression ending in suicide.  

We have seen all too many examples of the latter. Even many years after the abuse. 

I have also been made painfully aware of the fact that accusations of abuse – especially among young children are rarely false. If a child comes up to you and says that someone ‘touched them’ in inappropriate ways, believe him!

And finally I am firmly on the side of reporting sex abuse directly to the police. If a child accuses someone of abuse, he must be stopped. And the best way to go about that is to report it to people that are professionally trained to determine if the abuse really happened and then take appropriate action if it is determined to be true.

Going to rabbis first is a mistake, in my view. Let the experts sort it out, not those who have pre-existing biases about members of the community so accused. Since pedophiles can and often are respected members of the community that project the purest of images - rabbis being human often find it difficult if not impossible to believe accusations about them. Thus they can easily end up vilifying the victims as being guilty of false accusations. The police, on the other hand, have no such pre-existing biases and in theory remain objective in their pursuit of the truth. A truth they have been trained to determine.

But what if the accusation is false? It may be rare, but it does happen. There is not a doubt in my mind that the reputation of a falsely accused perpetrator will be ruined for life… long after he is exonerated.

This of course means that caution should always be used before going to the police with an accusation of abuse. But in matters of doubt, the better side of caution requires one to side with the statistics that say that accusations of sex abuse are rarely false. And report to the police right away.

I fear that in the current climate the idea of a false accusation is practically ignored. For me that creates an imbalance that favors (justifiably perhaps) the accuser over the accused. But justified or not, that simply is not fair to an innocent man (or woman) falsely accused. 

I’m not saying that we should change the current paradigm of going to the police immediately with credible suspicions of sex abuse. I’m merely saying that being overly fair to one side can ultimately mean being grossly unfair to the other. And ruin their lives.

I bring all this up in light of a statement made in a Forward article by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. She is currently involved in a dispute with convicted sex abuser, Jesse Frriedman. Here is what she said: 
“Instances of wrongful conviction are real and exist in far greater numbers than any of us would like to admit...”  
Ms. Rice is fighting Jesse Friedman’s attempt to clear his name.  Here is what happened to him. Again, from the Forward
Friedman, facing 243 charges in 1988, has said he pleaded guilty to 25 counts, convinced after dire warnings from the presiding judge about the penalties he faced, that he could not get a fair trial in the intensely publicized case.
Mr. Friedman served his sentence of 13 years in prison and now lives a peaceful life with his wife,Lizabeth.  But his tainted reputation remains: 
His designation for life as a Level 3 violent sex offender restricts where he can work, live, worship and travel. Raising a family would be nearly impossible, making everyday events like taking a child to school problematic. 
What makes Mr. Friedman’s claim of innocence different from others is an Oscar nominated documentary called Capturing the Friedmans. It seems to confirm Mr. Friedman’s claim.  While his father Arnold was certainly guilty of sexual molestation and ultimately committed suicide in prison, it is far from certain that his son, Jesse was guilty of anything. 

That documentary showed that the tactics used by the police and prosecutors were less than professional (to say the least) with ‘questionable use of suggestive interviewing techniques, hypnosis and what is known in psychotherapy as repressed and recovered memories of abuse’. Here is how Mr. Friedman presents his case: 
Friedman’s team of advocates, which includes “Capturing the Friedmans” director Andrew Jarecki, has collected recantations, eyewitnesses who say they saw nothing amiss and accusers who now say their incriminating statements were pressured and coached. They say the Rice report was biased and woefully incomplete.
In a reel of new evidence compiled by Jarecki, one accuser, now an adult, said he was never raped or sodomized. “If I said it, it was not because it happened. It was because someone else put those words in my mouth,” he said.
Another advocate for reopening the case is Arline Epstein, whose young son made accusations against the Friedmans. Two years ago, as an adult, he admitted he had lied to end what he found to be relentless pressure.He told his mother that police questioning him as a child warned if he didn’t say he was abused he could become a homosexual.
“The degree of the wrong is so appalling and so shocking that this just has to be addressed,” Epstein said. “If we don’t, then the whole credibility of our system crumbles.” 
As of now, this case is unresolved. The prosecution maintains that he was guilty and his sentence just: 
Her report cited victims who affirmed their accounts, disputed recantations and blasted “Capturing the Friedmans” as “selectively edited and misleading.” “We were fully prepared to exonerate Mr. Friedman if that’s where the facts led us. But the facts, under any objective analysis, led to a substantially different conclusion,” she wrote. 
Where does the truth lie in this case? I don’t know. But I am left with an admission by the prosecutor herself that there are far more wrongful convictions than anyone would like to admit. If that is indeed the case - the question now is, What do we do about it?