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Bill to protect child actors from sex offenders becomes law

September 28, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law requiring the screening of talent managers, photographers and others who work with child actors.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law requiring the screening of… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

A bill banning registered sex offenders from representing young talent in California has been signed into law after winning broad support in Hollywood from film studios, actors unions, agents and managers.

The state measure requires screening of acting coaches, managers, photographers and others in the entertainment industry who have unsupervised access to minors. The new law, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, sets up a permit process by which these professionals would submit their names and fingerprints to the state labor commissioner to be checked against the national database of registered sex offenders. It takes effect Jan. 1.

“For us, this has been a long time coming,” said Anne Henry, co-founder of the nonprofit advocacy group BizParentz Foundation, which sponsored the bill. “We’ve seen the problem escalate, and we’ve seen more public cases.... We could see that the problem of pedophiles in the entertainment industry wasn’t going to go away. That meant we had to take action to protect our children.”

BizParentz tried unsuccessfully to push similar legislation through in 2006, but that bill never made it out of the state Senate Appropriations Committee amid opposition from some in the entertainment business.

Awareness of child sexual abuse has changed dramatically in the wake of the Penn State scandal that resulted in the conviction of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts involving 10 boys. The matter struck closer to home when The Times reported last fall that a convicted child molester had been helping cast child actors in mainstream Hollywood movies. Within weeks, another case surfaced: Longtime child talent manager Martin Weiss was arrested Nov. 29 on suspicion of child molestation. He pleaded no contest in June to two counts of molestation.

An examination by The Times identified at least a dozen child molestation and child pornography prosecutions since 2000 involving actors, managers, production assistants and others in the industry, based on court documents and published accounts. Advocates and professionals who work with victims of child sexual abuse say predators exploit the glittery allure of Hollywood to prey on aspiring actors or models.

“Instead of blaming the stage parents or blaming the kids for being in the industry, suddenly pedophilia was in their face in the schools and colleges and in Hollywood,” said Henry, whose group conducted a campaign to build support for the bill. “And they realized this was probably more common than anybody thought.”

In February, Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) introduced the bill, AB 1660, to provide greater protections for young actors.

The Assn. of Talent Agents and the Talent Managers Assn. wrote letters supporting the bill, as did the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union, saying that a screening process would improve the safety of child actors.

“The entertainment industry is a unique setting where minors of all ages interact with various people, not knowing if those individuals have been convicted of predatory behavior,” wrote Thomas Carpenter, then chief labor counsel of SAG-AFTRA. “While the recent reports of harmful situations are not the norm, the safety measures set forth [in the bill] will strengthen the tools given to those tasked with protecting children.”

The major film studios also lined up behind the measure through the industry’s trade group, the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The MPAA applauded the governor’s decision to sign the bill into law. The measure passed the state Assembly and Senate in August by wide margins.

“We were all supportive of this from the beginning,” said Vans Stevenson, the MPAA’s senior vice president of state government affairs. “We think it’s important and critical legislation that makes it clear that young actors are protected.”

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