Drake Bell, former star of the popular Nickelodeon show “Drake & Josh” He was sentenced to two years in prison After pleading guilty to child endangerment charges involving a girl he met online.
In an impact statement read out before Bell was sentenced, his victim said Bell began grooming her when she was 12, sending her sexually explicit pictures — including of his genitals — when she was 15, and sexually assaulting her. Bell’s attorney denies the victim’s allegations, and while Bell said in his guilty plea that his behavior was wrong, he did not detail the inappropriate behavior that he admitted.
Bell joins the ranks of other celebrities associated with health brands accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Former “That’s So Raven” star Kyle Massey was charged with a felony this month for sending pornography to a 13-year-old girl. In 2019 Stony Westmoreland, who played Grandpa in “Andy Mac” on Disney Channel, He was arrested on federal charges of soliciting a 13-year-old boy for sex. The case is ongoing.
On social media, famous influencers who have millions of young followers have also been accused of inappropriate communication with minors. Earlier this year, a teenage boy said that 21-year-old YouTube makeup artist James Charles sponsored him and forced him to share photos on Snapchat. Charles later admitted the misconduct and apologized.
The public doesn’t want to believe the bad things about people who exhibit healthy traits – whether they’re a Disney star, religious, or “family guy.” But these examples confirm that public identity is not a useful indicator of whether someone is capable of committing abuse. Celebrities who perpetrate sexual violence can benefit from their reach to small audiences as well as parents’ trust in the brands associated with them.
“Parents and even young people have been prepared to be willing to spot some red flags, but what is even more discreet is when the person who commits abuse is able to tap into their public perception, character, trusted image, and access to young people,” said Laura Palumbo, director of communications at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “.
“It is a great foundation of trust and admiration similar to how children are abused by the coaches and educators they look up to. … Celebrity status and fame can distract us from the possibility of someone doing harm even though it is no less likely to be offended than any other. Someone you might see on the sex offender registry in your community.”
I hope you are really sorry. I do not know.’
When Judge Timothy McCormick ruled on Bell Monday, he seemed skeptical of his remorse.
“Your stature and status as a celebrity enabled you to cement that relationship,” McCormick said. “You managed to get through to this kid. You managed to gain this kid’s trust. I hope you really regret it. I don’t know.”
Sexual violence experts say people want to believe it’s easy to spot a predator. People tend to think of the predator as a dominant and aggressive person, but many offenders, including beneficial stars, do not fit the stereotype. Experts say people don’t want to believe that someone with qualities they admire could be capable of such malevolent mischief.
“We have this idea that if you love someone … they have no way of committing an act of sexual violence,” said Nicole Pedera, who teaches gender and sexuality with a focus on sexual violence in college. “But in reality, all people who commit acts of sexual violence are kind to some people.”
Bell’s victim said that she initially felt loved and protected by him during online conversations. When his behavior made her uncomfortable, she felt trapped.
“I was definitely one of his biggest fans,” she said. “I would have done anything for him.”
Counts and sentences that often don’t tell the whole story
Palumbo said that a perpetrator’s verdict often did not reflect the true nature of their crimes nor the extent of the victim’s trauma. She said the options for holding someone accountable are limited within the legal system.
“At a societal level, when we have these legal outcomes that are really about settling and moving the legal process forward, it feeds misunderstandings among the public and gives a lot of power to the person who committed the abuse,” she said.
In 2019, Shen Baishi admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl who was on the school bus he was driving. Michael Wisowski admitted to keeping a teenage girl in sexual captivity for more than a year. Two separate judges in two separate states ruled that neither would go to prison.
The rulings have sparked outrage among sexual assault survivors and advocates alike, who say such mild sentences can have dire consequences: re-victimizing survivors, deterring future victims from reporting, and failing to dissuade predators.
“For most survivors, the effect of the crime seems like a life sentence. So why shouldn’t the offender spend a day in prison?” asked Michael Dolce, an attorney who leads the sexual assault, sex trafficking, and domestic violence team at the law firm Cohen and Milstein. “Where is the justice in that?
‘I did not mean that’
Bell, via Zoom, spoke briefly before the sentencing on Monday.
“I accept this petition because my behavior was wrong,” Bell said. “I’m sorry the victim was hurt. I didn’t mean to.”
Palumbo said the perpetrators claim they did not intend harm as a way to minimize abuse. It’s part of a playbook to save one’s reputation, which can also include asking the public for sympathy by talking about how the issue affects them and their families, and trying to humanize themselves and seem connected to them.
On the same day the sentencing, Bell returned to his Instagram to share a video of him playing the piano and singing his songs “It’s Not the Last Call” and “I Know” with his infant son sitting in his lap. He captioned the video “Father Son jam sesh” and shared fan reactions to it via Instagram Stories.
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“The important thing for the public to understand is that people who commit abuse are looking to preserve their personalities, preserve their relationships, and in some cases look to preserve their livelihoods,” Palumbo said.
Bell faced imprisonment, but would instead perform 200 hours of community service and remain on probation for two years.
In a statement Monday, Bell’s attorney, Ian Friedman, said “Drake and his family are relieved and grateful that this is behind them. He looks forward, once again, to the performance to all of his supportive fans around the world.”
The victim was hoping for something different.
“The pain the defendant caused me is indescribable, and it is getting worse every day,” she told the court. “He committed these crimes against me with pride, an accused who obviously has no remorse for his crimes deserves to be punished with the fullest possible punishment. I will never forget what he did to me. This and his breaking in the most disgusting way. … I deserve better.”
If you are a sexual assault survivor, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800,656. Hope & online.rainn.org).