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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Child Sex Abuse Hysteria and Wrongful Convictions: The Jesse Friedman Case

Nickie Phillips

Between 1984 and 1995, at least 72 individuals were convicted during the national hysteria of mass child molestation and satanic ritual abuse cases.  Almost all of those convictions have since been overturned.  

The National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) has published a white paper co-authored by Gavin de Becker (threat assessment expert and author of The Gift of Fear)  and Emily Horowitz, (sociology professor and co-director NCRJ), titled "Destruction of Innocence: The Friedman Case: How Coerced Testimony & Confessions Harm Children, Families & Communities for Decades After the Wrongful Convictions Occur." de Becker and Horowitz analyze the present-day, on-going impact of wrongful convictions with a specific focus on the Jesse Friedman case, well-known as the subject of the landmark documentary film, Capturing the FriedmansThough the U.S. Appeals Court has ruled that Jesse Friedman was likely wrongfully convicted as a result of the mass hysteria surrounding child sex abuse, the case has not yet been overturned.

The impact of wrongful convictions on those imprisoned is well-documented, however the impact on the children involved in these cases has often been neglected. Virtually all of the hundreds of children questioned by authorities in these wrongful conviction cases initially maintained that they were not sexually abused and were confident in their perceptions of reality. However, in an effort to gain prosecutions and satiate public demands for justice, these children were dragged to a place of confusion by well-meaning, but misguided authorities. The use of ethically questionable interview techniques and coercion resulted in a lingering mistrust of adults and shattered the children’s certainty about themselves and the world.

This paper provides new evidence and insight from extensive interviews with individuals that police alleged were molested in the Jesse Friedman case – and who now as adults confirm they were coerced into making false accusations. The consequences of false and hysteria-driven prosecutions such as this are vast. Law enforcement is robbed of resources to investigate actual sex crimes cases, the public’s faith in the legitimacy of such prosecutions is reduced, and the children involved may suffer long-term negative emotional and psychological effects. Providing resolution to the Friedman case through the overturning of the wrongful conviction, provides a unique opportunity to heal a community still suffering from the wounds of false accusation, confusion, and deceit.

To sign the petition urging the court to overturn the Jesse Friedman conviction, go here.