California State Capitol Sacramento - By Steve Wilson

This past September, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that aims to protect child actors from sexual abuse by requiring the screening of talent managers, photographers, and other people who work with child actors.  Professionals will provide their names and fingerprints to the state labor commissioner, and anyone who matches with the national database of registered sex offenders will be banned from representing any of the young talent in California.  The law takes effect on January 1, 2013.

The protection of child actors has been a pertinent issue in the entertainment industry for quite some time.  In the 1980s, after a helicopter crashed on the set of The Twilight Zone, killing actor Vic Morrow and two Taiwanese children, the issues of child labor laws and the protection of child actors were brought to everyone’s attention.  However, in recent years, sexual abuse of child actors has become salient.  The Times conducted a study and found that since 2000, there was at least a dozen child molestation and child pornography prosecutions involving children in the entertainment industry.  Most recently, in November of 2012, Martin Weiss, a prominent talent manager, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation, followed two weeks later by the arrest of Jason James Murphy, a film casting associate, for failing to file a name change with authorities regarding his past conviction of child molestation and abduction.

This law has garnered a lot of support among the entertainment community, and has sparked some revelations from past child actors.  Corey Feldman (from Gremlins and The Goonies) and Todd Bridges (from Diff’rent Strokes) have voiced their support for the law, as well as the fact that they were both molested during their time as child actors.  Feldman was molested by a man involved with his father’s child talent business, while Bridges was molested by a family friend who was a musician and gospel singer.  In addition to actors, a number of organizations have voiced their support as well, including the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Arts union, the Association of Talent Agents, the Talent Managers Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Despite this step forward, the ultimate question still remains as to whether or not child actors are adequately protected by the law.  Bridges asserted that without laws like this, Hollywood will keep attracting pedophiles that will be unmonitored and free to commit more acts of abuse.  But will this law be enough?  Unless the professionals required to submit their information include every type of position in the entertainment industry, there will always be the risk of people slipping through the cracks.  Not only that, but it is not just sexual abuse that child actors need to be protected from.  Drugs and alcohol are extremely prevalent in the entertainment industry, as well as incredibly high levels of stress related to the instability of the job, constant rejection, relocation, and the lack of normal social environments for children, such as school.

A career in the entertainment industry is extremely difficult and often destructive for most adults and therefore poses even greater risks for children.  Sexual abuse is just one of those many risks, but hopefully this new law will help usher in more legislation to try and eliminate the bad influences that seem to lurk around every corner for child actors and provide them with a much safer environment to grow up in.

John Lomascolo

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One Response to Taking a Stand: California Passes Legislation for the Protection of Child Actors from Sexual Abuse

  1. Kate Haywood says:

    I agree that this law is a large step in the right direction. It is hard to believe that adults working so intimately with children have never been subject to any sort of screening process in the past. Especially in the entertainment industry, where the stereotypical “stage moms” are probably less eager to defend their children against powerful industry players.
    However, an initial screening process is not enough, especially when it is so limited in scope. If adults are going to work one-on-one with others’ children, they should be held to the utmost ethical and legal standards- with monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure their compliance. Additional supplements to the new law could include education/therapy programs for children, prohibition of adults and child actors in private spaces, or implementing due diligence requirements for parents before allowing their children to work with industry professionals. Overall, it is good to see that this very serious issue is being addressed in the legislature!

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