The Exploitation of Minors in the Entertainment Industry | Teen Ink

The Exploitation of Minors in the Entertainment Industry

August 9, 2023
By Anonymous

The Long Standing Problem of Child Exploitation

Human exploitation is defined by the United States Government as the act of mistreating someone with the intention of benefiting oneself (Department of Homeland Security). Historically, exploitation towards minors has started  when the victim is near the age of thirteen or fourteen (Women at Risk). Moreso, a significant chunk of those child victims are those a part of the entertainment industry; thousands of famous children have reported situations along the lines of being “molested …by several sexual predators'' or being forced to work despite complete exhaustion (Project Casting ; Nicki Swift). Such instances  have led to the development of mental illness, such as addictions and post-traumatic stress disorders. It’s often claimed that the exploitation of minors in the entertainment industry is a fault that belongs to parents, who willingly place their children in such a dangerous environment. Others believe that it is the minor’s fault and claim the minors wanted to be in that situation (Angela Russell, Erin Reilly). Although parents play a role in deciding if the minor should enter the entertainment industry, not all parents are aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and children aren’t developed enough to make such big-ticket decisions alone (Robin Henig). Since professionals in the  entertainment industry are responsible  for initiating the very exploitation in question, they contribute to the exploitation of minors to the greatest extent. Considering the permanent psychological damage that a minor gains after being exploited, it is essential to identify the group of people most contributing to this and a way to bring the situation to a halt. 

Cases of Sexual Exploitation in the Entertainment Industry

The alarming cases of exploitation that have been reported in the entertainment industry often fall into the category of sexual exploitation. Corey Feldman, a victim of sexual exploitation, explains to news reporters that “he was molested as a young actor by several sexual predators including one industry insider who still works in Hollywood today” (Project Casting). Additionally, Corey Haim, another actor, was raped by an adult female in the acting industry.  (Project Casting). The power individuals in the industry bestow upon themselves has led to these two victims experiencing mental health issues for decades (Project Casting). Many fail to realize how long term the effects can be and the extent to which even their loved ones are impacted. In the case of Corey Haim, he began to abuse substances and this ultimately led to his death (Project Casting). Not only did he have to suffer, but his family and friends would have also had to mourn his death (Rachel Nall). 

Similarly, young dancers have also been sexually exploited in the industry, though their stories vary greatly from the cases of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. Co-author Erin Reilly, who has published a variety of papers on topics regarding mental illnesses, noted that during a dance competition, school-age children “...wore hot pants and black-laced red satin bras while performing complex intricate pirouettes, gyrating and dancing to moves that appeared to be “a crotch-shot short of illegal” (Angela Russell, Erin Reilly).  By forcing the minors to wear such revealing clothes, they begin to tie their worth to their bodies and ultimately see themselves as objects. This in turn leads to the development of mental illnesses such as eating disorders; hence, these inappropriate outfits led to a lifetime of suffering.

Cases of Physical Exploitation in the Entertainment Industry

The second form of exploitation that minors in the entertainment industry often endure is physical exploitation. Nicki Swift, a long-term entertainment interviewer, describes how teen stars were given “adrenaline shots and other "pep" pills so the young performers could continue to shoot despite intense exhaustion” (Nicki Swift). A specific example of this is the case of Judy Garland; she was “fed amphetamines by MGM to keep her clocking up 72-hour shifts” (Danny Leigh). Filmmakers had given themselves the power to dictate and destroy her sleep schedule to benefit themselves; if she had stayed up for longer, they would produce content faster and ultimately gain more money. As the entertainment industry continues to deprive minors of their sleep, they increasingly become more prone to developing health issues such as heart diseases, which are deadly (NIH). Not only that, but Garland “was prescribed pills by MGM studio doctors to control…her weight.” By stunting a young girl’s natural body growth with dietary pills, the film studio made Garland more prone to “chronic diarrhea, dehydration, stroke, seizures, heart problems and kidney and liver damage” (Erika Edwards). The film makers caused her to develop a reliance on drugs, which ultimately led to her death (Erin Blakemore). This further highlights the great extent to which the entertainment industry directly contributes to the exploitation of minors. 

The Psychological Impacts 

A majority of the effects of being either sexually or physically exploited as a minor tend to manifest as a mental illness. When one is sexually assaulted, common effects include the development of PTSD and drug addictions (Dean G. Kilpatrick). Kilpatrick, a researcher who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  has reported that “rape victims are 13.4 times more likely to have two or more major alcohol problems” and “26 times more likely to have two or more major serious drug abuse problems” (Dean G. Kilpatrick). Additionally, approximately 30% of those rape victims developed PTSD (Dean G. Kilpatrick). By mentioning the considerably large chances one has of developing substance use problems and/or PTSD after being sexually exploited, Kilpatrick makes it evident how detrimental it can be to one’s mental health.  As for young dancers who have experienced sexual exploitation, it is found that many of them go on to develop “poor body image and self-image, shame, anxiety, eating disorders… [and] depression..” (Angela Russell, Erin Reilly). According to PULSE Tms, a team that informs patients about mental illnesses and treatment options, those who experience physical exploitation are also likely to develop depression (PULSE Tms). When minors in the entertainment industry are forced to work beyond what their bodies can handle, they may experience burnout, or emotional exhaustion; this burnout is sometimes referred to as a form of depression, or rather something that simply leads one into depression (PULSE Tms). While sexual exploitation differs from physical exploitation, minors tend to end up with fairly similar mental effects for both. 

Examining Who Contributes Most to the Exploitation of Minors in the Entertainment Industry

When it comes down to who is most responsible for the exploitation of minors in the entertainment industry, there is controversy about whether the fault belongs to the industry, the parents, or the minors themselves. Jennette McCurdy, a victim of exploitation, explains that her mother “...wanted to use her daughter as a proxy for her own unfulfilled dreams ” (Ellen Coyne). Nickelodeon star Jenette McCurdy was forced into the entertainment industry by her mother, where she then experienced forms of exploitation; in this case, the blame would fall onto the parents. However, while some parents, such as Jenette’s mom, were familiar with the world of entertainment and still sent their child into it, the majority of parents are unaware of the exploitation that occurs as it is well hidden (ProjectCasting). While the main suspect is still the entertainment industry, whose power allows them to initiate the actual exploitation, it’s a possibility that the minors themselves hold some fault. The parents of some young dancers claim that  “the girls would choose to dance and sing to sexualized music... '' (Angela Russell, Erin Reilly). However, Robin Henig, a freelance science writer who specializes in the brain, explains that it takes nearly twenty-five years for the brain to fully mature (Robin Henig). As the young dancers in question are not even teenagers, let alone adults, their brains are underdeveloped; thus, they cannot accept the blame.  Hence, because some parents are oblivious to the industry’s intentions and as kids are not of the age to accept such blame, the entertainment industry is most at fault. 

A Solution: Preventing Exploitation 

The futures of minors working in the entertainment industry are likely to continue to consist of mental illnesses and alcohol/drugs until the exploitation is discontinued.  Because the entertainment industry has been established as the suspect who contributes the most to the exploitation of minors, it is them who needs to be targeted when forming a solution. Recent child entertainment laws require work permits, limit work hours, and forbid certain frowned upon practices. Though this is only currently applicable to certain states, the expansion of this law across the globe will be undeniably beneficial (WHD). The number of exploitation cases among minors in the entertainment industry will dramatically decrease, as will the percentage of minors struggling with a mental illness or substance abuse.


Works Cited

“10 Child Abuse Cases Hollywood Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Project Casting, 29 Sep. 2021, Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Blakemore, Erin. “Golden Age Hollywood Had a Dirty Little Secret: Drugs.” HISTORY, 1 Mar. 2018, Accessed 2 Aug. 2023.

Exploitation and How to Protect Yourself | Homeland Security Accessed 2 Aug. 2023

Edwards, Erika. “Teenagers Can Be Seriously Harmed by Dietary Supplements.” NBC News, NBC News, 5 June 2019, Accessed 2 Aug. 2023.

Henig, Robin. What Is It about 20-Somethings? 2010.   Accessed 12 Jan. 2023

“How Disrupted Sleep May Lead to Heart Disease.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 4. Mar.2019, Accessed 2 Aug, 2023

Kilpatrick, Dean. “Mental Health Impact of Rape.”, 2019, Accessed 12 Jan. 2023

Leigh, Danny. “Drugs, Exploitation, 72-Hour Shifts: Can Hollywood Take Care of Its Child Stars?” The Guardian, 30 Aug. 2019, Accessed 2 Aug. 2023

Nall, Rachel . “Depression after the Death of a Loved One.” Healthline, 2012, Accessed 2 Aug, 2023

 “Sexualization of Prepubescent Girls in Dance Competition:Innocent Fun or  ‘Sexploitation’?.”, Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Swift, Nicki. “Famous Actors Who Were Exploited by Their Directors.” Nicki Swift, 9 Dec. 2015, Accessed 12 Jan. 2023.

“The Epidemic of Being Overworked: Can Burnout Lead to Depression?”, 23 Aug. 2021, Accessed 12 Jan. 2023.

‌“US History of Sexual Exploitation of Children (News) - Women at Risk InternationalTM.” Women at Risk InternationalTM, 11 May 2012, Accessed 12 Jan. 2023

“We Need to Talk About...Why We Must Protect Child Influencers From Exploitation - ProQuest.” Accessed 11 Dec. 2022.

The author's comments:

My name is Jasmine Hasan and I wrote this piece during my junior year of high school through a research class. I took time to look into celebrities' past experiences in the entertainment industry. This is a serious issue that needs more attention!

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