From Victim to Perpetrator: The Vicious Cycle of Abused Childhood Stars

*If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or go online to thehotline.org.

T.W: This article mentions instances of sexual assault and physical abuse

 

It is no longer a secret that within Hollywood’s most elite circles of directors and producers, abuse of all forms runs rampant behind the scenes. In fact, it was never really secret, but treated as a taboo subject that was refrained from being publicized until recent events of the #MeToo Movement. The movement exposed stories from countless victims about ongoing sexual assault from Hollywood moguls like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Epstein, and many more. 

Sadly, these perverted crimes have tainted the reputations of beloved children’s television networks, such as Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. One by one, former childhood stars were alluding to the public via social media that they endured trauma throughout their budding careers by powerful figures in charge; Dan Schneider, the producer of many hit Nickelodeon shows like All-That and iCarly, was fired from the network after he had allegedly been sexually abusing cast members on his shows, including Jennette McCurdy, Amanda Bynes, Alexa Nikolas and even extras on set who were all under 18 at the time of production. What can be confirmed is that there were producers on Nickelodeon that Schneider worked near that were charged for sexual assault against minors on set. However, what I would like to focus on are childhood stars whose careers and mental health rapidly dwindled in front of the public eye from what was most likely a result of abuse and sexual violence during their early years in acting and how, as a result, that trauma gets passed on to others in the form of domestic violence.

As some abusers are originally victims of abuse` themselves, they “can repeat the patterns of abuse they were subjected to, or create new ones, in their relationships with others” (Holden 2020). For childhood actors in already stressful work environments, added abuse from powerful people on and off-set could certainly cause abuse to a normal part of their relationships. On Feb. 17, Elle magazine published an interview with singer FKA Twigs that recounts her “disturbing” and extremely volatile relationship with actor Shia LaBeouf since filing a lawsuit against him in December 2020. The couple met on his most recent film Honey Boy, which depicts his time as a Disney child actor whose financial success keeps his abusive relationship with his father (who LaBeouf portrays in the film) staying afloat. Twigs describe how LaBeouf’s “love bombing” -- a term used to describe over affection early on in a relationship-- quickly became possessive and violent, including frequent blowups, strangling, and knowingly transmitting an STD to her. She feared for her life as he kept guns in their shared home and mentioned to her “shamelessly” that in prepping for an upcoming movie role, he was shooting stray dogs as a part of his Method Acting technique. Like most victims of domestic violence, Twigs was isolated from friends and family who could see she needed help and manipulated into staying with him for fear of her own safety. 

Many who keep up with entertainment news knew that LaBeouf’s unraveling in public was nothing new, as the former Transformers star was famed in later years for his “erratic performances” that were captured by paparazzi, including public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and court filings about abuse allegations from former girlfriends. Although LaBeouf’s infamous red carpet appearance wearing a paper bag over his head with the words “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” written on it appeared almost humorous at the time, looking at the story now in full context signals that there were much more disturbing behaviors going on behind closed doors. 

Similarly, Drake Bell has allegedly abused his former girlfriends, including musician Jimi Ono (real name Melissa Lingafelt,) who shared on her Tik-Tok account videos and screenshots of women who said that they were also verbally and physically abused by the Drake and Josh star, including one message from a girl who shared that he knowingly had sex with a 15-year-old when he was 20 years old. Publications that reported on these allegations confirmed that LaBeouf and Bell have denied all allegations made against them. 

It should be noted that even with knowledge of Hollywood’s gross history and how children are exploited, it still does not make what Shia LaBeouf and Drake Bell did to their partners justifiable under any means.  Of course, it is not solely Hollywood’s system of grooming and silence that enables these behaviors, but it hasn’t done much to rectify the situation either. I mean, if three men could stand idly by while FKA Twigs was pinned against a car as LaBeouf was strangling her in broad daylight, it only reinstates the fact that society does not value women’s safety, especially Black women. According to the National Organization for Women, for every fifteen Black women who are raped, only one woman reports it, as Black women are statistically less likely to be believed than their white counterparts. 

Since the story broke of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual perversions in 2017, the dark underbelly of Hollywood has finally come to the surface for the public to, at the bare minimum, acknowledge that pedophilia, rape, and many forms of abuse are happening virtually everywhere that would be impossible to fit into one publication.  With that being said, it is time for the entertainment industry to step up and take real action in making sure that children are protected by removing predatory figures from Hollywood, and that victims who have been assaulted are given proper help before they, too, fall into the rare, but vicious cycle of abusing others.