Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Child Abuse is Real

Have you seen the Oscar-nominated "documentary" called Capturing the Friedmans? It's a remarkable piece of revisionist history about a once well-known child molestation case on Long Island, New York, in the late 1980s. Arnold Friedman, a school teacher, and his son Jesse were arrested and pled guilty to multiple counts of child molestation. Arnold died in prison and Jesse served his entire sentence.

Andrew Jarecki, who originally planned on doing a picture on the most popular birthday clown in NYC (who turned out to be the eldest son of Arnold Friedman), has produced and directed a film that seeks to cast shadows on places where none exists.

About 14 years ago the American Journalism Review published a remarkable article by Lisa Manshel called "Reporters for the Defense." (The article isn't available online but a there is a letter from Manshel about her article. Hit the link and scroll down about four letters.) Mahsel profiles three writers who consistently championed the cause of accused child molesters: Dorothy Rabbinowitz of the Wall Street Journal (since lionized for her work by the National Criminal Defense Lawyers Association); Mike Tiabbi (now of NBC news, who did his bit most recently by claiming that Michael Jackson's accuser's family were liars); and Debbie Nathan, who served as the "expert" for Jarecki's film.

As far as I can tell, Nathan has never seen a child molestation case in the news she thought was true. She's the author of books and articles calling attention brought to the subject as hysteria akin to the Salem witch trials or '50s-era McCarthyism.

The never-boring Mike Miner has detailed the latest dust-up in his Nov. 25 column in the Chicago Reader, quoting me:

Whenever prosecutors take a beating in America, the person to go to for the other side of the story is Joshua Marquis, an Oregon district attorney who's his profession's most visible champion. I asked if he'd seen Nathan's story and wasn't surprised to hear he'd already e-mailed a friend at the Times to challenge it.

Marquis wrote, "Most child abuse is not ritual or as notorious as the Friedmans' but otherwise is very similar, i.e. the victims often DON'T tell even when they have an opportunity -- particularly teenage boys for whom the stigma of being involved in homosexual sex is a big deal. . . . The victimizers are often trusted members of the family or community who have no criminal record."

He went on, "I'm not claiming that people like Nathan are insensitive. I'm claiming they want so hard to believe that such things just don't happen that it's preferable to believe in the caricature of the overzealous prosecutor bundling the innocent schoolteacher (Arnold Friedman) off to prison, largely because the scenario of wrongful convictions is easier to deal with than widespread sexual exploitation of children."

Marquis distinguishes genuine abuse "from the right-wing nut case 'satanic ritual abuse' that was popular in the mid-80s." But it was the tragic absurdity of those cases that finally made America think twice. "In my county and many others," Marquis wrote, "we have medically based child abuse assessment centers -- autonomous non-profits staffed by trained interviewers and volunteer physicians. The idea is there is exactly ONE interview with the child and it's done on videotape so there is no question about suggestibility, etc. The medical exam (as Nathan points out) rarely finds physical evidence of abuse but is important also because the child often makes disclosures to the doctor. In my experience our success rate has skyrocketed from about 60% to 95% when these cases go to trial, which they often don't because the evidence is so damning."

Read the full article ....

1 comment:

  1. JOSH MARQUIS -- I appreciate your voice very much. Very few people in this world are as brave (as you) to tell the truth. Bravo! All the best to you and your work.

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