This article is an opinion piece by Representative Jason Spencer House Seat 180. Spencer represents Camden, Charlton, and Ware counties in Southeast Georgia. It is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of AllOnGeorgia. This column was published unedited.
Recently, the news of a very famous Hollywood movie mogul’s sexual predations saturated the airwaves, which raises a very interesting question for Georgia. Georgia has benefited from an economic boom from the film industry, but are we ready to deal with the dark side of the industry’s pedophilia culture?
Over the years, the State of Georgia has changed its tax code to become more hospitable to the film industry. I have supported these friendly policies, and they have paid off. This summer, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that during Fiscal Year 2017, the film industry generated a $9.5 billion economic impact in Georgia, and the 320 feature film and television productions filmed in our state represent $2.7 billion in direct state spending. Furthermore, Georgia outpaced Hollywood, Calif., the traditional front-runner, in feature film productions in 2016. Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson announced that hundreds of new businesses have relocated or expanded in our state, creating many jobs for Georgians. The growth of Georgia’s film industry from $67.7 million in Fiscal Year 2007 in direct spending to $2.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2017 is impressive.
While these policies have been economically positive for the state, dark cultural aspects of the film industry lurk beyond its glamorous veneer. The recent panoply of intriguing headlines of sexual assault and pedophilia within the industry brings to the forefront a great concern and responsibility that policymakers in our state must face. Famous child actors like Corey Feldman, who starred in 1980s hit “The Goonies,” and Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings,” have exposed the rampant pedophilia culture in the film industry. Young actresses have spoken out claiming sexual assault and rape by the famous movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Child star Finn Wolfhard, who acts in the Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” which was filmed in Georgia, is leaving a Los Angeles-based agency amid child sexual abuse allegations against one of its agents. How long has this organized abuse been going on? To illustrate how far the keepers of the film industry will go to protect their own, the now scandalized Harvey Weinstein organized a petition in 2009 to have famous movie director Roman Polanski’s child sexual rape charges dropped. The petition was signed by big-time actors, including Harrison Ford, Woody Allen and Whoopi Goldberg, who was quoted as saying Polanski’s rape of a 13-year-old actress “wasn’t really rape-rape.” Georgia needs to consider this tight web of support for predators. These dark aspects of the film industry pose a threat to our state.
In recent years, the Georgia General Assembly has strengthened its child sexual exploitation laws by enhancing criminal penalties on human sex trafficking through the passage of the Safe Harbor Act. We also passed the Hidden Predator Act in 2015, which changed our civil liability laws to open the halls of justice for survivors of child sexual abuse who were locked out of the courts due to a short statute of limitations. These laws provide some justice for child sexual abuse survivors, but they do not go far enough. The current Hidden Predator Act has led to the exposure of child sexual predators, and within two years, 13 cases have been filed across the state using the “open window” provision of the current law. Thirteen cases are hardly examples of an “avalanche of frivolous litigation” that opponents claimed during debates on the Hidden Predator Act. In one of the cases, a Boy Scouts organization in Gainesville, Ga. allowed a former scoutmaster to return to the troop as an adult volunteer; therefore, giving access to his previous victims after he was dismissed from the organization for complaints of molestation within the troop.
While the current Hidden Predator Act has led to some exposure of pedophiles in organizations and industries, it stops short of bringing about true justice to those who conspire to cover up abuse. Georgia has made great strides in becoming the No. 1 state in the country to do business, and we can be proud of that. However, as with any policy preference, a balance must be achieved. We must be ready to consider and address the culture of those we do business with without diluting our values. To protect Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, our children, we must put those who care for children or have a duty to protect children, on notice. We need to strengthen the current Hidden Predator Act by considering the passage of House Bill 605, the Hidden Predator Act of 2018, to confront the very strong and very real culture of pedophilia and sexual assault that underlies some of the profitable industries we’ve worked hard to bring to our state.