A few weeks ago, the now-septuagenarian actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who appeared in 1968’s Romeo and Juliet as minors, filed a lawsuit against the film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, for being forced to perform nude on camera at the ages of 15 and 16 years old.
The lawsuit was filed in accordance with California law that has now extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. According to Hussey and Whiting, they had been promised by the film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, that they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments while filming sex scenes.
Hussey and Whiting allege that when it came time to film the scenes, the director reneged on his promise and told them that they had to do the scenes completely nude or “the film would fail.” The two child actors reluctantly complied, their nudity was depicted onscreen, and they have carried the trauma from that coercion with them to this day.
Sadly, the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were filled with other movies that featured nude depictions of minors such as Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon, featuring a child Brooke Shields. There was also Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which included a scene of a young male fantasizing about an underage girl removing her bikini top and exposing her breasts. Perhaps the most egregious, 1984’s Blame it on Rio, depicted several instances of child nudity and sexual exploitation in a story about a middle-aged man being pursued by an underage girl and eventually having sex with her. The young actress playing the girl, Michelle Johnson, was 17 at the time of filming and the filmmakers had to get a signed waiver from her parents before her nude scenes could be filmed.
There are countless other examples. But the main thread running through all of them is the shameless child sexual exploitation. And that exploitation continues to this day.
Child Sexual Exploitation Has Moved From the Movie Screen to the Computer Screen
While many in our culture – especially in light of the #MeToo movement – now condemn the the way these older films sexually exploited minors, the truth is the exploitation goes on. It has just moved from the movie screen to the computer screen. And like Hollywood in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the exploiters are laughing all the way to the bank.
Literally millions of children are having their sexual abuse images trafficked daily on the Internet. For example, after Nicholas Kristof’s explosive article, The Children of Pornhub, appeared in the New York Times in December 2022, Pornhub had to take down more than 10 million videos from their website because they could not verify the age of the individuals featured in them. This means that any number of those 10 million videos could have been child sexual abuse material (the more apt term for “child pornography”).
But NCOSE is taking action to stop this exploitation.
The NCOSE Law Center sued Pornhub and its owner, MindGeek, on behalf of a 16-year-old girl, who was drugged and then had her rape by a Tuscaloosa, Alabama man filmed and uploaded to Pornhub, which then profited from the images and video. No attempt was made by Pornhub to verify the young girl’s identity or age. Another underage girl had sexually explicit videos, which she was forced to participate in, uploaded, distributed, and profited from by Pornhub. NCOSE is suing Pornhub on her behalf as well.
— Dr. Rich Swier (@drrichswier) January 29, 2023
There are the typical nefarious exploiters, such as Pornhub and other hardcore pornography sites – but the exploitation and sexualization of children also occurs daily on mainstream social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter.
NCOSE has filed a federal lawsuit against Twitter for facilitating and profiting from child sexual abuse images of two young boys. The suit is presently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The NCOSE Corporate Advocacy team is working with mainstream social media companies to curb child sexual exploitation on their platforms. Working with our ally, #Traffickinghub, Pornhub was booted off of Instagram, Tik-Tok, and YouTube – resulting in them losing 15 million subscribers!
You can read more about these efforts and victories in the 2022 NCOSE Gratitude Report.
2022 was a big year for the anti-exploitation movement. 🙌 Look at everything you've made possible! https://t.co/G9nXHWZEoF
— National Center on Sexual Exploitation (@NCOSE) January 15, 2023
Help NCOSE Combat Child Sexual Exploitation Whenever it Occurs
The track record of both Hollywood and the tech industry when it comes to child sexual exploitation is shameful. The unwillingness of both industries to be held accountable – whether the depicted exploitation occurred 50 years ago or yesterday – means organizations such as NCOSE, along with many of our allies, have to step up, file lawsuits, and demand legislation to force them to end the abuse or face the consequences.
Donate now to support the fight to end all sexual abuse and exploitation!
Thank you for joining us as we work to hold exploiters accountable, bring justice to survivors, and protect all children!
EDITORS NOTE: This NCOSE Law Center column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.