An investigation by the LA Times into sex offenders working with children in the entertainment industry has led to several arrests and possible legal reform. Last month, the Times published an article on Jason James, a casting associate on several movies involving child actors.
The story begins when Jason James Murphy was convicted in 1996 of kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old. Murphy was out on bond on molestation charges when he kidnapped the victim and took him to New York City. The crime was featured on America’s Most Wanted, and he was located and arrested based on tips from the hotline. He was then convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Fast forward fifteen years and Jason James, aka Jason James Murphy, has a successful career casting actors for tv shows and films. After the LA Times published reports about his past crimes, he was arrested for violating sex offender registry requirements. His attorney claims he followed all laws and has proof of his compliance, and by all accounts, he has been beyond suspicion and without accusation since his initial crime.
At the core of the debate is whether Murphy should have been allowed to work on the same film as young children. Hollywood is notoriously permissive when it comes to sex offenses, but officials believe this should change.
Advocates and professionals who work with victims of child sexual abuse say predators exploit the glittery lure of Hollywood to prey on aspiring actors or models. They assert that the problem is more widespread than the industry is willing to acknowledge and have called for tougher laws and better screening of those who represent or work with children.
“Unlike other settings, such as Little League, Scouts, day care and school volunteers, where adults who have unsupervised access to children are required to comply with fingerprinting requirements, there are no such standards in the entertainment industry,” said Paula Dorn, co-founder of the BizParentz Foundation, a nonprofit group for families of child actors. LA Times, 8 Jan 2012.
Lawmakers have taken action by creating a bill requiring background checks and a license for entertainment industry employees working with children.
The recent arrests prompted a bill, expected to be filed this month with the California Assembly, that would require licensing and criminal background checks for those who work with actors under age 16. It would prohibit registered sex offenders from serving as child managers, photographers, career counselors or publicists.
“Under the existing law, talent agents are regulated; however, casting directors, managers and photographers are not. This loophole makes it very easy for a predator to gain access to children working within the entertainment industry,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose).
Experts say addressing the problem is overdue.
“This is just like the Catholic Church pretending that priests never molested people in the past,” said Dr. Daniel D. Broughton, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic and expert on child sexual abuse. “What’s surprising to me is why it hasn’t come out even stronger and sooner.” LA Times, 8 Jan 2012.
This issue presents a unique opportunity for companies in the entertainment industry to create guidelines and checks for current employees, and participate in the larger discussion of how to prevent sexual abuse of child actors.