Drake Bell, the former star of the popular Nickelodeon show “Drake & Josh”, was sentenced to two years probation on Monday after pleading guilty to child endangerment charges relating to a girl he met online.
In a statement of effectiveness read prior to Bell’s conviction, his victim said Bell started caring for her at age 12, sent her sexually explicit photos – including his own genitals – when she was 15, and sexually abused her. Bell’s attorney denies the victim’s allegations, and while Bell said in his guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty act his behavior was wrong, he did not elaborate on the inappropriate behavior he admitted.
Bell joins the ranks of other celebrities associated with healthy brands who are accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Former “That’s So Raven” star Kyle Massey was charged with a crime this month for sending pornographic material to a 13-year-old girl. In 2019, Stoney played Westmoreland, who played the grandfather in “Andi Mack” on the Disney Channel, was arrested on federal charges of luring a 13-year-old boy into sex. The case is on.
Popular influencers with millions of young followers are also accused of inappropriate contact with minors on social media. Earlier this year, a teenager said that 21-year-old YouTube makeup artist James Charles groomed him and forced him to share photos on Snapchat. Charles later admitted his wrongdoing and apologized.
The public may not want to believe bad things about people who display healthy traits – whether Disney stars, religious people, or “family men”, but these examples underscore that public identity is not a useful indicator of whether someone is able to to bind abuse. Celebrities who engage in sexual violence can leverage their access to a young audience as well as parental trust in their associated brands.
“Parents are prepared for this, and even young people are ready to see certain warning signs, but what is even more covert is when the person who is committing the abuse, their public perception, character, trustworthy image and access to young people can use. ” People, “said Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
“It’s a great foundation for trust and admiration, much like when children are abused by coaches and teachers they look up to. … The status of notoriety and fame can distract us from someone causing harm, although abuse is no less likely than someone you may see on a sex offender registry in your community. “
“I hope you really have repentance. I dont know.’
When Judge Timothy McCormick sentenced Bell on Monday, he appeared to be skeptical of his remorse.
“Your position and celebrity status enabled you to maintain that relationship,” said McCormick. “You were able to gain access to this child. You were able to win this child’s trust. I hope you really have regrets. I dont know.”
Sexual violence experts say that people want to believe that identifying a predator is easy. People tend to view a predator as someone who is dominant and aggressive, but many abusers, including healthy celebrities, do not match the stereotype. Experts say people don’t want to believe that someone with qualities they admire is capable of such malicious harm.
“Our idea is that when you like someone … there is no way you can commit an act of sexual violence,” said Nicole Bedera, who studies gender and sexuality with a focus on sexual violence in colleges. “But the reality is that all people who commit sexual violence are kind to some people.”
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Bell’s victim said she initially felt loved and protected by him while chatting online. 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.”
Accusations and sentences that often don’t tell the full story
Palumbo said that convicting an offender often does not reflect the true nature of their crimes or the extent of the victim’s trauma. Within the legal system, the possibilities to hold someone accountable are limited.
“At the societal level, when we have these legal outcomes that are really about compromising and advancing the legal process, it fuels public misunderstandings and gives a lot of power back to the person who committed the abuse,” she said.
In 2019, Shane Piche admitted raping a 14-year-old girl who was riding the school bus he was driving. Michael Wysolovski admitted holding a young girl in sexual captivity for more than a year. Two different judges in two different states ruled that neither of them would go to jail.
The verdicts sparked outrage from survivors and advocates of sexual assault, who say such mild verdicts can have dangerous consequences: re-traumatizing survivors, preventing future victims from reporting, and not dissuading predators.
“For most survivors, the aftermath of the crime feels like life in prison. So why doesn’t the perpetrator spend a day in jail?” asked Michael Dolce, an attorney who leads the sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and domestic abuse team at Cohen & Milstein law firm. “Where is the justice there?
‘It was not my intention’
Bell spoke about Zoom shortly before his sentencing on Monday.
“I accept this request because my behavior was wrong,” said Bell. “I’m sorry the victim was injured. It was not my intention.”
Palumbo said the perpetrators claimed they had no intention of causing harm in order to minimize the abuse. It’s part of the playbook to save your own reputation, which can include asking the public for sympathy by talking about how the case affected them and their family and trying to humanize yourself and assign.
On the same day as his conviction, Bell returned to his Instagram to share a video of him playing the piano and singing his songs “It’s Never Last Call” and “I Know” with his young son on his lap. He subtitled the video “Father Son jam sesh” and shared fan reactions on his Instagram stories.
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“It is important for the public to understand that people who commit abuse are trying to protect their characters, relationships, and in some cases, their livelihoods,” Palumbo said.
Bell faced jail time but will instead do 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 to have this behind them. He’s looking forward to performing for all of his supporting fans around the world once again. “
The victim had hoped for something else.
“The pain the defendant caused me is indescribable and is getting worse every day,” she said in court. “He has committed these crimes against me with pride, a defendant who clearly feels no remorse for his crimes deserves the highest possible sentence. I’ll never forget what he did to me and broke it in the most disgusting way possible. … I deserve better. “
If you survived a sexual assault, RAINN provides assistance through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE & online.rainn.org).