Film shown at Sex Week event depicts lives of sex offenders

Sammy Caiola

“Capturing the Friedmans,” a documentary about a father and son from Long Island who were both accused and convicted of child molestation, was shown Wednesday as part of Northwestern’s Sex Week.

The film tells the story of Arnold Friedman, a school teacher from Great Neck who committed suicide after being imprisoned for several years on charges of molesting students in his home-taught computer class. His son Jesse was simultaneously accused at the age of 19 and spent 13 years in prison before being released.

About 20 students attended the event, which was held at the Technological Institute at 7:30 p.m. The event was planned by Sex Week director and Daily cartoonist Nicole Collins, who said she first heard about the film in Prof. John Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality course and has been interested in it ever since.

“It was the most emotional experience I’ve ever had while watching a movie,” said Collins, a Weinberg senior. “It really brought up a lot of issues that have to do with Sex Week’s mission, like sex and social panics and moral hysteria, which I think is especially relevant, especially with the sex toy controversy breaking.”

Jesse Friedman conducted a question-and-answer session via Skype at the event, where the group discussed various sexual issues.

“It’s been a horrific and horrible experience,” Friedman said. “As much as the film was disruptive to my life, the consolation is that there are a great number of people who saw the film and took a minute to pause and reconsider. Maybe not everything you see in the news in necessarily an unbiased position.”

Friedman claims he and his father are both innocent of the crime and that his neighbors falsely accused him based on misleading facts from the police. He spoke about the negative stigma against sex offenders and how it is reflected in the legal system.

After his 13 years in prison, he was on probation for another five years in New York City. He was required to wear a curfew bracelet, could not have a postal box and could not go near parks or schools, among other restrictions.

He has made several appeals to the courts, which are now conducting another thorough investigation of his case. He is now married and lives in Connecticut but said he has gone through years of therapy to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. He is still a registered sex offender.

“I’d much rather know if my neighbor has a meth lab in their garage than to know if there’s a sex offender living next store to me,” Friedman said. “There should be murderers registered and drug addicts registered. I’d really like to know how many burglars and car thieves live in my neighborhood. It’s a right-to-privacy issue.”

Bailey and sociology Prof. Hector Carrillo were also present at the event to help lead the discussion. Both professors incorporate this documentary into their curricula, though Bailey’s was an optional after-class viewing.

Bailey said he saw this film when it came out in 2003 and found it “utterly shattering and tragic.” He said he thinks the film raises important issues and is one step forward to clearing Friedman’s case.

“I haven’t done much in previous years with Sex Week,” Bailey said. “I think this is a fantastic event, this particular one. And if the other events are anything like this one, I am definitely a supporter.”

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