Why “Quiet on Set” is so relevant this month

Learning about Sexual Assault Awareness month

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If you’ve been on YouTube, scrolled the news or looked at trending topics at all in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen lots of coverage of the new MAX documentary series “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” which dives into the abuse and exploitation of child actors on TV/sitcom sets throughout the 1990s to the 2000s. This series interviews many former child stars and tells their stories of being assaulted, exploited and otherwise mistreated and failed by the adults around them. It dives into horrific and sad stories of abuse and is a gripping exposé on the open secret we have known for years: Hollywood systematically protects child predators and abusers. 

April is recognized as Sexual Assult Awareness Month, a time to be educated on sexual assault, recognize and support survivers and have hard discussions about sexual exploitation and violence. The NDSU VPEs(Violence Prevention Educators) have been doing work around campus to promote education this month, which you can read more about at the end of this article!

I think the release of this documentary coinciding with the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month means that we can have more in-depth conversations about sexual violence and abuse dynamics including why they can persist for so long. 

How did this go on for so long?

One of the most heartbreaking elements in the stories of “Quiet On Set” is that these children were continually failed by the adults around them. So many adults saw what was happening, yet they did not step in to protect these children in any meaningful way. 

Probably the most infamous story from this documentary has been the story of former child star Drake Bell who has come forward for the first time about the assault and years of grooming he faced from Brian Peck, a dialogue coach at Nickelodeon. Peck was convicted in 2003 of multiple charges of sexual abuse against Bell, who went by John Doe in the trial. Peck was only given 16 months in prison and was promptly rehired in the entertainment industry to work on another children’s TV show on the Disney channel despite being a registered sex offender. 

 After being convicted of sex crimes against a minor, Peck still received letters from multiple celebrities telling the judge that Brian was a “great guy,” and he “just made a mistake.” Here is a hard pill to swallow: Someone can be a kind and funny person and also be a rapist. Just because someone is funny and charming does not absolve them of wrongdoing. Anyone has the ability to cause harm.

Peck was supported and protected by so many people, even after his convictions. The people around him evidently had no issue with a convicted child predator working on another kids’ show, and if they did, they took no meaningful steps to get him removed or to protect the children he was working with. It has been alleged that Peck has continually been seen “hanging out” with other teenage boys and has also been accused and brought to court for other sex crimes against minors. 

Every step of the way, people were silent and complicit. People whose job it should be to protect children such as parents, directors, teachers and other adults on set, failed to step up and advocate for the safety of the children.     

Inappropriate joking, rape culture and hostile work environments

Another major aspect of the documentary has been the accusations against producer and director Dan Schnieder, known for creating shows such as “Drake & Josh,” “iCarly,” “Sam & Cat” and “Zoey101.” The majority of the accusations are regarding inappropriate jokes and scenes that he wrote for kid’s TV shows. The scenes in question include alleged sexual innuendos and fetishistic content that underage actors were forced to perform as “comedy.” 

In my humble opinion, there is no way that these scenes were meant to be innocent and fun because the same sorts of “jokes” occur so many different times. Many actors have since come out and said that as adults, they look back at these scenes and feel exploited. They alleged that Schnieder would become extremely angry and verbally abusive with them if they did not do a scene or if he felt they were not doing a scene to his standards. According to former Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy who has been vocal about her experiences on set, she was forced to kiss her co-star Nathan Kress for an episode of iCarly despite being extremely nervous and uncomfortable doing so. She detailed the incident on set, saying that Schnieder yelled at her and demanded she do multiple takes despite her discomfort. She was only 15 at the time with no knowledge of how to advocate for herself, and no one stepped in to help advocate for her.    

Whether Schnieder ever directly assaulted or sexually abused any actors or other minors remains unknown, though allegations against him exist on the internet. The main point I want to make is this: Dan Schneider played a role in creating a hostile work environment where the people on set did not feel comfortable saying “no” to him, voicing their discomfort with him or pushing back against him when he wanted them to perform scenes they were uncomfortable with. 

When it comes to discussions of consent, we need to talk about all situations where people feel they are being pressured into saying “yes” or to comply. When we talk about rape culture, it refers to a culture or environment that excuses and normalizes behaviors that lead to sexual violence. In this case, this includes excusing adults inappropriately touching young actors on set, pressuring young actors to wear costumes they are uncomfortable with and making minors perform “jokes” that were written and made for adults without giving them the ability to say “no.” 

There is no “perfect victim”

As some of you may know, Drake Bell was convicted in 2021 of Felony Child Endangerment related to his inappropriately contacting a minor. Since Bell has come forward with his story of being abused, some have taken it upon themselves to “disprove” Bell’s victim because they feel bad for him. This is fundamentally wrong and lacks nuance. Drake Bell is a victim who deserves sympathy, yes. However, that sympathy should not overextend into excusing his actions against another minor. Hurt people hurt other people, and Bell can be a victim himself while also being an abuser. 

Another name being floated around in this discussion has been Amanda Bynes. Bynes was a child star on Nickelodeon from the ’90s to the 2000s, and in the 2010s, she unfortunately had a very public breakdown. She has been in and out of drug rehab and therapy but now appears to be doing well. Many have raised questions about Bynes’ experience at Nickelodeon, but it’s important to remember that Bynes does not have to come forward with her story if she chooses not to. Secondly, just because Bynes has struggled with addiction and mental health in the past does not mean any allegations she may make now are automatically invalid.

A victim does not have to be a perfect person to be believed. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, and expecting a victim to have no flaws of their own is unrealistic and immature. Believe victims when they come forward, even if that victim doesn’t have a squeaky-clean reputation. 

How to participate in sexual assault awareness month

Here at NDSU, the Violence Prevention Educators are hosting Denim Day on Wednesday, April 24 all day! Wear denim that day to show your support for survivors of sexual assault. Listen to the stories of survivors and learn how you can support them and help them heal. If you have been a victim of sexual violence, you can reach out to NDSU’s Counseling Center at 701) 231-7671, or reach out to our Sexual Assualt Prevention & Advocacy Coordinator Megan Talcott (megan.talcott@ndsu.edu). You are loved, you are valid and healing is possible.    

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