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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Hiding Behind the Spotlight: Celebrities and Child Sexual Exploitation

Adam Banner - Tuesday, September 01, 2015

My most recent Huffington Post article, entitled "Subway, Jared Fogle, and the Face of Child Pornography," explored the concept that, when it comes to people convicted of possessing child pornography, there is no stereotypical offender. While you may picture a seedy looking man hiding out in the basement, his face lit only by the computer screen, the fact is that perpetrators of sex crimes against children know no specific type. They are both men and women. They may live out of a van, or they may live next door. As we are beginning to see more and more, they may live in a Hollywood mansion. Rather than hidden from exposure, their faces are lit not by a single bare bulb in a dingy apartment, but by the bright lights of cameras and the stage.

Jared Fogle--clean cut, affluent, and a spokesman for a popular restaurant chain--may be the new face of child pornography, but he is certainly not the first celebrity to come under fire for sexually exploiting minors. 

The day after the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana announced that Fogle would plead guilty to charges involving child pornography and child prostitution, federal agents also served a search warrant related to child pornography at the home of KISS bassist Gene Simmons and his wife, former porn star Shannon Tweed. Agents said that Simmons and Tweed were not suspects in the case, but the search goes to show just how close to home child pornography can strike. After the search, Tweed took to Twitter, expressing her shock that someone inside their home downloaded child pornography: "We couldn't be more horrified that someone used our residence for such heinous crimes."

However, this is not the first close brush the KISS artist has had with child pornography. In September, agents arrested Stephen Coronel, a former guitarist for Wicked Lester, the band in which Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley played prior to forming KISS. When investigators raided Coronel's home, they allegedly found actively playing child pornography videos involving children aged 3 to 12. Coronel was arrested on 5 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

And Simmons is not the only celebrity who has been stunned to find out that someone close to him was involved in child pornography. Last year, author John Grisham found himself in hot water with his fans after saying that sentences for child pornography were too harsh. Although he immediately backpedaled from his statement after being soundly criticized by the media and fans, his initial comments were in defense of a friend who was convicted of viewing child pornography. Grisham said, "We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.” He went on to say that those who download and view child pornography are not necessarily pedophiles, and while the criticism was strong against Grisham, some pointed out that he was technically correct in his assessment. Syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum wrote in TIME magazine that Grisham was right on two points: "People who download child pornography are not necessarily child molesters, and whatever harm they cause by looking at forbidden pictures does not justify the penalties they often receive."

As child pornography and sexual exploitation arrest become more and more common in general, they become more and more common among celebrities as well:

  • R. Kelly was acquitted of child porn charges after the discovery of a sex tape involving a minor under 18.
  • Rob Lowe did 20 hours of community service to avoid criminal charges after the discovery of a sex tape involving a 16-year-old girl.

My most recent Huffington Post article, entitled "Subway, Jared Fogle, and the Face of Child Pornography," explored the concept that, when it comes to people convicted of possessing child pornography, there is no stereotypical offender. While you may picture a seedy looking man hiding out in the basement, his face lit only by the computer screen, the fact is that perpetrators of sex crimes against children know no specific type. They are both men and women. They may live out of a van, or they may live next door. As we are beginning to see more and more, they may live in a Hollywood mansion. Rather than hidden from exposure, their faces are lit not by a single bare bulb in a dingy apartment, but by the bright lights of cameras and the stage.

Jared Fogle--clean cut, affluent, and a spokesman for a popular restaurant chain--may be the new face of child pornography, but he is certainly not the first celebrity to come under fire for sexually exploiting minors.

The day after the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana announced that Fogle would plead guilty to charges involving child pornography and child prostitution, federal agents also served a search warrant related to child pornography at the home of KISS bassist Gene Simmons and his wife, former porn star Shannon Tweed. Agents said that Simmons and Tweed were not suspects in the case, but the search goes to show just how close to home child pornography can strike. After the search, Tweed took to Twitter, expressing her shock that someone inside their home downloaded child pornography: "We couldn't be more horrified that someone used our residence for such heinous crimes."

However, this is not the first close brush the KISS artist has had with child pornography. In September, agents arrested Stephen Coronel, a former guitarist for Wicked Lester, the band in which Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley played prior to forming KISS. When investigators raided Coronel's home, they allegedly found actively playing child pornography videos involving children aged 3 to 12. Coronel was arrested on 5 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

And Simmons is not the only celebrity who has been stunned to find out that someone close to him was involved in child pornography. Last year, author John Grisham found himself in hot water with his fans after saying that sentences for child pornography were too harsh. 

Although he immediately backpedaled from his statement after being soundly criticized by the media and fans, his initial comments were in defense of a friend who was convicted of viewing child pornography. Grisham said, "We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.” He went on to say that those who download and view child pornography are not necessarily pedophiles, and while the criticism was strong against Grisham, some pointed out that he was technically correct in his assessment. 

Syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum wrote in TIME magazine that Grisham was right on two points: "People who download child pornography are not necessarily child molesters, and whatever harm they cause by looking at forbidden pictures does not justify the penalties they often receive."

As child pornography and sexual exploitation arrest become more and more common in general, they become more and more common among celebrities as well:

  • R. Kelly was acquitted of child porn charges after the discovery of a sex tape involving a minor under 18.
  • Rob Lowe did 20 hours of community service to avoid criminal charges after the discovery of a sex tape involving a 16-year-old girl.

Interestingly enough, these men were either never charged or acquitted, when making a sex tape with a minor under 18 definitely fits the description of production of child pornography. These cases demonstrate the justice system's changing response to child pornography and child sexual exploitation.

Other celebrities who have been accused or convicted of child pornography or sex crimes involving children include Jeffrey Jones, who played the principal on Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Stephen Collins, who played Reverend Eric Camden on TV's "7th Heaven;" Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who; and Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins, who was convicted not only of possession of child pornography, but also the attempted rape of an infant. 

These celebrity arrests show that child sex crimes have no type. Rockers and real estate agents, actors and accountants--the new face of child pornography is everywhere. 






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