Child Abuse in the Entertainment Industry

By Ana Perez, 9th Grade

Child molestation is the crime of sexual acts with minors (including child p*rnography and r*pe). Hollywood has had a long history of child abuse ever since 1921, although it gained more attention during 1971 when director Roman Polanski (director of Chinatown) was convicted on charges of sexual abuse against a minor. And, the issue came back again in 2017 when Harvey Weinstein (producer of Pulp Fiction) was accused of sexual assault by 80 different women, beginning the MeToo movement, where hundreds of men and women started denouncing sexual abuse – including sexual abuse against minors. According to Levy Konigsberg (n.d), children are particularly vulnerable to sexual misconduct by adults as they are not supervised by parents at all times and lack the judgment or power to refuse sexual misconduct.

There have been several cases of sexual abuse over the years. Showbiz Kids, a documentary that premiered on HBO, had Todd Bridges (the main character in Diff’rent Strokes) come forward about being sexually abused as a child. Evan Rachel Woods (Dolores Abernathy in Westworld) stated that “And what surprised me when I got older was finding out that pretty much all of the young men were abused in some way, sexually.” Jeffrey Epstein, who has been known in recent years because of his sexual abuse allegations and large connections, sent his victims straight to Harvey Weinstein, convincing them that it’d be beneficial for their career. Dan Schneider, an American television producer, was accused of questionable behavior towards the young actors on Nickelodeon shows. During his time with Nickelodeon, he constantly sexualized the young actresses. For example, on the show Victorious, Ariana Grande, who was 16-year-old when the show premiered, was forced to eat her food and drink water upside down (in a creepy manner), leading Ariana to dislike playing the character. A pedophile ring was created by Brock Pierce (from the Mighty Ducks) and it was discovered in 2002. Pierce was imprisoned for 18 months and pleaded guilty to 9 counts of child sexual abuse. He was then released, registered as a sex offender, and fled to London.

Child abuse in the entertainment industry is not only present behind-the-scenes but in the films and TV shows that we see. One of the most controversial stories is the French film “Cuties” which showed the actresses (most of whom were 14 and the youngest was 12) wearing revealing outfits while doing suggestive dances. The director, Maïmouna Doucouré, stated that she made the movie to expose how young girls were sexualizing themselves because of what they saw on movies and television. And while it is true that young girls do that, showing the harms of young girls sexualizing themselves by sexualizing themselves is not a good idea. The only people who liked the film were the critics, as it received an 88% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 16% audience score, for obvious reasons – the film did a horrendous job of conveying the message; if you want to show the consequences of animal abuse, you do not shoot a dog.

The film “Lolita” has also faced this problem. Lolita (1997) is a movie about middle-aged Humbert Humbert falling in love with Dolores, a 13-year-old girl, and having a relationship with her. The film is based on a novel by Vladimir Nabokov that wanted to show the gaslighting and suffering that the victims face during these abusive relationships, making it clear that Lolita is not a love story. Dominique Swain was about 15-years-old when Lolita started filming and was forced to kiss Jeremy Iron, a man twice her age, for the movie. Thankfully, the physical scenes in the movie used a 19-year-old body double. However, it is still quite problematic to cast a teenager to play a character such as Lolita from such a controversial novel. If Netflix casts 25-year-olds to act like teenagers, why can’t a film like Lolita do the same? This has also led to several people believing that Lolita is a tragic love story instead of a horror story about a middle-aged pedophile abusing, gaslighting, and sexualizing a child.

But if sexual abuse is so common in the film industry, then why do accusations and repercussions rarely happen? Corey Feldman has stated that the biggest problem in Hollywood is pedophilia and the reason people rarely speak out is that they have their lives threatened by powerful actors, directors, and producers. It is treated as an open secret because of the repercussions of speaking out.

Victims of sexual abuse also refuse to speak out because “saying something” and “not being compliant” is not as easy as some make them seem. Fear, shame, and trauma are reasons why victims do not speak out and it has long-lasting effects on their psyche. Victims also rarely speak out because they are rarely believed. Although one in five women experience sexual assault and false reports make up 2 – 8%, we rarely believe the victims, even though they are statistically likely to be telling the truth. Based on data from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), for every 1,000 rapes, 384 are reported to the police, 57 result in arrest, 11 are referred for prosecution, 7 result in felony conviction, and 6 result in incarceration. This means that out of the 325,566 sexual assaults that are reported every year, only 1,953 perpetrators will be sent to prison. 

Child sexual abuse is a rampant problem in Hollywood and most perpetrators are simply going to walk away because they are powerful enough to scare victims and bystanders into keeping quiet or will simply face no repercussions. Cases like Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski being convicted are rare – and we’re unfortunately not going to see a significant change in the near future.

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