Recent Charges of Sexual Abuse of Children in Hollywood Just Tip of Iceberg, Experts Say
By Meaghan Murphy
If a spate of recent allegations proves true, Hollywood may have a hideous epidemic on its hands. The past two weeks have brought three separate reports of alleged child sexual abuse in the entertainment industry.
Martin Weiss, a 47-year-old Hollywood manager who represented child actors, was charged in Los Angeles on Dec. 1 with sexually abusing a former client. His accuser, who was under 12 years old during the time of the alleged abuse, reported to authorities that Weiss told him “what they were doing was common practice in the entertainment industry.” Weiss has pleaded not guilty.
On Nov. 21, Fernando Rivas, 59, an award-winning composer for “Sesame Street,” was arraigned on charges of coercing a child “to engage in sexually explicit conduct” in South Carolina. The Juilliard-trained composer was also charged with production and distribution of child pornography.
Registered sex offender Jason James Murphy, 35, worked as a casting agent in Hollywood for years before his past kidnapping and sexual abuse of a boy was revealed by the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 17. Murphy’s credits include placing young actors in kid-friendly fare like “Bad News Bears,” “The School of Rock,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and the forthcoming “Three Stooges.”
Revelations of this sort come as no surprise to former child star Corey Feldman.
Feldman, 40, himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, unflinchingly warned of the world of pedophiles who are drawn to the entertainment industry last August. “I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia,” Feldman told ABC’s Nightline. “That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.”
Another child star from an earlier era agrees that Hollywood has long had a problem with pedophilia. “When I watched that interview, a whole series of names and faces from my history went zooming through my head,” Paul Peterson, 66, star of The Donna Reed Show, a sitcom popular in the 1950s and 60s, and president of A Minor Consideration, tells FOXNews.com. “Some of these people, who I know very well, are still in the game.”
“This has been going on for a very long time,” concurs former “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal.”
Arngrim, 49, was referring to Feldman and his co-star in “The Lost Boys,” Corey Haim, who died in March 2010 after years of drug abuse.
“I literally heard that they were ‘passed around,’” Arngrim said. “The word was that they were given drugs and being used for sex. It was awful – these were kids, they weren’t 18 yet. There were all sorts of stories about everyone from their, quote, ‘set guardians’ on down that these two had been sexually abused and were totally being corrupted in every possible way.”
In fact it is the very nature of a TV or movie set that invites predators, experts tell Fox News.
“A set in Hollywood with children can become a place that attracts pedophiles because the children there may be vulnerable and less tended to,” explains Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Berman. “One thing we know about actors, psychologically speaking, is that they’re people who like a lot of attention. Kids naturally like a lot of attention, and when you put a kid on a set who is unsupervised and getting attention from someone who is powerful, it creates a vulnerability for a very dangerous situation.”
Feldman, who claims he was “surrounded” by pedophiles when he was 14, says the sexual abuse by an unnamed “Hollywood mogul” led to the death of his friend Haim at the age of 38. “That person needs to be exposed, but, unfortunately, I can’t be the one to do it,” Feldman told Nightline.
“There’s more than one person to blame,” says Arngrim. “I’m sure that it was not just one person who sexually abused Corey Haim, and I’m sure it wasn’t only him and Corey Feldman that knew about it. I’m sure that dozens of people were aware of the situation and chose to not report it.”
Arngrim, a board member and the national spokeswoman for protect.org, an organization that works to protect children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, says greed in Hollywood allows sexual predators to flourish. “Nobody wants to stop the gravy train,” says Arngrim. “If a child actor is being sexually abused by someone on the show, is the family, agents or managers – the people who are getting money out of this – going to say, ‘OK, let’s press charges’? No, because it’s going to bring the whole show to a grinding halt, and stop all the checks. So, the pressure is there is not to say anything.”
“It’s almost a willing sacrifice that many parents are oblivious to – what kind of environment do they think that they’re pushing their kid into?” said Peterson. “The casting couch is a real thing, and sometimes just getting an appointment makes people do desperate things.”
Arngrim, who revealed her own sexual abuse in her 2010 autobiography, “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,” explains: “I’ve heard from victims from all over the country. Everyone tells the same kind of story, everyone is told to keep it secret, everyone is threatened with something. Corey Feldman may have opened a can of worms by speaking out, but yes, this does go on.”
Even though Feldman spoke candidly about the abuse, he hasn’t named the predator. “People don’t want to talk about this because they’re afraid for their careers,” says Peterson. “From my perspective, what Corey did was pretty brave. It would be really wonderful if his allegations reached through all of the protective layers and identified the real people who are a part of a worldwide child pornography ring, because it’s huge and it respects no borders, just as it does not respect the age of the children involved.”