MOLEST VICTIM PROTESTS AT DISNEY FILM RELEASE;
Director served prison term for sex crime 7 years ago
By Jim Herron Zamora
THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
October 25, 1995, Wednesday News; Pg. A-1
The victim of a childhood sexual molestation is urging filmgoers to boycott the new Disney film "Powder," which was directed by the man who videotaped himself having oral sex with the then-12-year-old Concord boy.
The film, about a troubled teenager, is scheduled for release this Friday in 1,200 theaters nationwide. Its director, Victor Salva, confessed in 1988 to five felony counts related to having sex with a boy he directed in a low-budget film.
The molestation victim, Nathan Winters, now 20, has decided to go public with his ordeal to protest Salva's connection with the movie, which was made by a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios.
Winters led a small band of protesters outside an entertainment industry screening of the movie in Los Angeles on Monday night.
"Please don't spend your money on this movie," urged leaflets handed out by the group "It would just go to line the pockets of this child molester." Friends toted signs: "Victor Salva: Writer, Director, Child Molester" and "Support the Victim, not the Victimizer."
Salva, 37, said in a statement Tuesday that he regretted his past actions.
"I paid for my mistakes dearly," he said. "Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a filmmaker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our industry."
Nathan's mother, Rebecca Winters of Concord, called Salva's return to filmmaking "absolutely outrageous."
"I can't believe it. It just makes me sick," she said. "I'm not going to stand by. He should not be allowed to live his life as if nothing happened."
She said the family learned that Salva was directing the movie when they saw his name on TV during an advertisement for "Powder."
"We were shocked to see his name in the credits," she said.
Salva confessed to having oral sex with Nathan Winters in 1987 while directing the then sixth-grader in "Clownhouse," a film about three boys terrorized by circus clowns.
"Clownhouse" won several awards and was the first horror movie released at the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival.
Salva was sentenced to three years in state prison, serving 15 months and completing parole in 1992, according to the state Corrections Department and court records in Contra Costa County. He is a registered sex offender in Los Angeles County, according to state records.
Laws in 46 states, including California, treat sex offenders differently than other convicted criminals in that sex offenders, once released from prison, are required to register with authorities in communities where they take up residence. This is because pedophiles are driven by a psychological compulsion that has typically not been cured by therapy, according to criminologists and prosecutors.
Although Salva's prison sentence was the shortest he was eligible for, it did not come as a result of a plea bargain, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Jack Waddell, who headed Contra Costa County's sexual assault prosecution unit at the time.
Winters, who also acted for Salva in the 1986 short film "Something in the Basement," told his mother during the making of "Clownhouse" that Salva had forced sex on him.
When police raided Salva's house, they found two homemade pornographic tapes, one showing Salva having oral sex with Winters.
In April 1988, Salva pleaded guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14 and three counts of procuring a child for pornography. At his sentencing hearing, a prosecutor said Salva appeared to seek jobs where he could work with children. Salva has written children's books and in 1985 worked at the Crawford Village Child Care Center in Concord.
Rated PG-13, the $ 10 million "Powder" is Salva's first mainstream Hollywood movie. The film was made for Caravan Pictures, a production company wholly owned by Disney.
Movie industry sources said that Salva was not under contract with Caravan or Disney for any movies beyond "Powder."
Salva's work with Caravan could prove embarrassing for Disney, whose theme parks, animated characters and popular cartoon videos have cemented its reputation for wholesome family fun for more than six decades.
Disney declined comment to The Examiner. Disney spokesman John Dreyer told the Associated Press, "What's the point, other than you want to make headlines?"
But Dreyer confirmed that Disney's corporate office was not aware of Salva's criminal record.
The producer of "Powder" defended his embattled director.
"He paid for his crime, he paid his debt to society," said Roger Birnbaum, head of Caravan Pictures who also recently produced "Dead Presidents" and "The Big Green." "What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie."
Birnbaum said he was tipped about Salva's conviction halfway through filming "Powder" and confronted him. Told only the basics, Birnbaum elected to neither dismiss Salva nor inform the entire cast and crew. Instead, Birnbaum said, "Key production people were told to keep an eye out for anything, just in case." Nothing improper was observed, Birnbaum said.
"Powder" stars Mary Steenburgen and Jeff Goldblum as the teachers of a boy with telekinetic powers and pure white skin, which repels his peers.
The actor who plays the teenage Powder, Sean Patrick Flanery, is 29, and Birnbaum told the Los Angeles Times that no minors were on the set during filming of the movie.
Experts in child abuse fear that Salva's role as a director of a teen-oriented film could put him in a position where he could use his power as a lever to abuse other minors.
"The frustrating part for law enforcement is that you have a convicted molester who is able to be around children and to be in a position of authority," Officer Joe Kreins of the Concord Police Department said. "It would be very easy for him to abuse his power and authority in that position."
A 1988 state Justice Department study found that almost half of all sex offenders are re-arrested; nearly 20 percent of sex offenders commit another sex crime. Convicted sex offenders are more than nine times as likely to commit another sex offense than a person convicted for a non-sex offense, statistics show.
"People do commit offenses and get out and get on with their lives," Waddell said. But "pedophiles and child molesters do have a tendency toward recidivism."
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