CNN shook up every parent in America’s world on Monday night when they aired a story on their 6 month investigation into the hiring of sex offenders at theme parks. So far 35 Disney employees have been arrested, two Sea World employees, and five Universal Studios employees.
Disney is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. For many children and adults it is. Many of us have fond memories of at least one family vacation spent at Disney World snapping pictures with Mickey Mouse and riding in the Teacups – memories we would not trade for the world. But unfortunately, it seems that it has become the “happiest place on Earth” for an undesirable crowd – sex offenders. Police have caught many of these offenders in stings set up in Florida. Two of the cases which involved the possession of child pornography occurred on Disney’s property.
Robert Kingsolver, a 49 year old husband and a father, is one of the 35 Disney employees arrested and accused of sex crimes since 2006. In an interview with CNN Kingsolver solemnly claimed, “My life is ruined. My family’s life is ruined. My kids’ life is ruined. I’ve devastated my parents because of bad judgment.” Kingsolver was caught in a sting set up by the Lake County Sheriff’s office. He thought that he was going to meet a 14 year old girl for sex. Upon being caught, Kingsolver claimed that he was “trying to protect the girl” and that he planned on calling authorities when he got to her home. This claim is similar to a fellow Disney employee’s who was also arrested and accused of sex crimes. Patrick Holgerson was a character actor at Disney and in training to become a VIP tour guide. Holgerson was arrested after sending nude photos and sexual messages to a 13 year old boy and his uncle. He was also caught in a sting and claimed afterwards that he was trying to protect the boy and felt that the boy’s uncle was the one in the wrong – not him.
Cedric Cuthbert, a pastor at his church and a custodial manager at Disney, was arrested for downloading child pornography onto his work computer while writing a sermon for his church. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Allen Treaster, a concierge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, was also arrested in a sting where he planned on meeting up with a teenage boy to “fulfill fantasies.” He also confessed to having sex with a 15 year old boy while knowing his age and advertises himself as a “Big Teddy Bear for younger chaser” online.
The situation is absolutely horrifying. Even if the offenses did not involve children on Disney’s property, they easily could have. So far a total of 32 of the accused sex offenders have been convicted with the remaining cases pending. The investigation into the hire of sex offenders in theme parks has led one of Florida’s state representatives, Dennis Ross, to call for legislation that would provide an exemption to the Polygraph Act of 1988. This legislation would provide for businesses that cater to children to be able to screen prospective employees so as to avoid dangers like those present at Disney’s parks. Interestingly enough, most of the employees interviews said that they only did what they did to protect the child in question.
Disney’s spokeswoman, Jacquee Wahler, issued a statement to CNN stating, “Providing
a safe environment for children and families is a responsibility we take very seriously. We have extensive measures in place, including pre-employment and ongoing criminal background checks and computer monitoring and firewalls. The numbers reported by CNN represent one one-hundredth of one percent of the 300,000 people we have employed during this time period. We continue to work closely with law enforcement and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as we constantly strengthen our efforts.”
Even if the numbers only represent one one-hundredth of one percent of Disney’s 300,000 employees, that number is still far too high when it comes to the endangerment of children. The United States’ Justice Department estimates that one in every six children that are victims of sexual assault are under 12 years old. Our society has grown increasingly numb to the subject of sex crimes; it is something that has become a societal norm. Whether it be ignored sexual harassment at the office, ill-handled campus rape, or the ignorant endangerment of millions of children that comes with the hire of sex offenders such as those at Disney, along with a multitude of other situations stemming from sexual harassment, our society has become too accepting of it. Too many people are willing to turn a blind eye to the situation so long as it does not personally affect them. But when will enough finally be enough?
Phillips, Kyra, and Scott Zamost. “Theme park employees caught in sex stings, child porn arrests.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/14/us/theme-park-employees-child-sex-stings/ (accessed July 18, 2014).