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Director of Disney Film About Troubled Teen Is Registered Sex Offender

October 24, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The director of ``Powder,″ a new Walt Disney film about a troubled teen-ager, is a convicted child molester who once videotaped himself having oral sex with a 12-year-old actor.

The film’s release this Friday in 1,200 U.S. theaters has prompted the molestation victim, Nathan Winters, now 20, to go public with his ordeal to protest Disney’s employment of filmmaker Victor Salva.

On Monday night, Winters and five friends picketed outside the industry screening of ``Powder,″ handing leaflets about Salva’s conviction to hundreds of grim-faced Hollywood executives leaving the theater.

``Please don’t spend your money on this movie,″ the leaflets urged. ``It would just go to line the pockets of this child molester.″ The friends toted signs: ``Victor Salva: Writer, Director, Child Molester″ and ``Support the Victim, not the Victimizer.″

Winters’ decision to go public, Disney’s reaction and the inevitable media attention all raise the knotty question of whether registered sex offenders, apart from perpetrators of all other crimes, should live under societal restrictions upon their completion of punishment.

Disney and the film’s producer argue that Salva has served his time.

Winters says he has been permanently scarred; his mother, Rebecca Winters, says he has been suicidal in recent months.

``I can’t believe it. It just makes me sick,″ Winters said of Salva’s return to filmmaking. ``I’m not going to stand by. He should not be allowed to live his life as if nothing happened.″

Salva confessed to having oral sex with Winters in 1987 while directing him in ``Clownhouse,″ a low-budget horror film about three boys terrorized by circus clowns. Salva, sentenced to three years in state prison, served 15 months and completed parole in 1992.

California is among 46 states that require convicted sex offenders to register their whereabouts with local police for the rest of their lives. After parole, they face no other restrictions.

Deputy District Attorney Jack Waddell said Tuesday he was ``quite sure″ Salva received counseling in state prison or as part of his parole.

But police warn that sexual abusers of children are rarely ``cured.″

A 1988 state Justice Department study found that almost half of all sex offenders are rearrested; nearly 20 percent of sex offenders commit another sex crime. Previously convicted sex offenders are more than nine times more likely to commit another sex offense than a person convicted for a non-sex offense, national statistics show.

William Dworin, in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s unit for sexually exploited children, said pedophiles exhibit a very high tendency to repeat their crimes.

``He’s in a position of authority,″ Dworin said of Salva, ``and as long as he’s in a position to be around kids he’s a threat to kids.″

``He paid for his crime, he paid his debt to society,″ countered Roger Birnbaum, whose Caravan Pictures made ``Powder″ for Disney. ``What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie.″

Said Disney spokesman John Dreyer: ``What’s the point, other than you want to make headlines?″

Salva, 37, declined to be interviewed.

Salva won the director’s job for ``Powder″ because Birnbaum was so impressed by his original script. The movie 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 teen-age Powder, Sean Patrick Flanery, is 29, but Birnbaum said Monday he could not state definitively whether all others in the youthful cast were 18 or older.

Rated PG-13, the $10 million ``Powder″ is Salva’s first mainstream Hollywood movie.

Some police who investigated the 1987 molestation said they were incredulous Salva was working again as a movie director. ``It just blows me away,″ said police officer Gary Primavera in Concord, the San Francisco suburb where Salva was arrested. ``He had serious signs of being a pedophile.″

Salva confessed to molesting Winters while the sixth-grader starred in ``Clownhouse.″ Winters, who also acted for Salva in the 1986 short film ``Something in the Basement,″ says he 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.

Salva was charged with 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, Waddell said.

Salva pleaded guilty to all five felony counts in April 1988. 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.

Producer Birnbaum said he was tipped about Salva’s history halfway through ``Powder″ filming 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 asserted.

Dreyer said Disney’s corporate office was not aware of Salva’s criminal record.

Salva’s employment could prove embarrassing for Disney, whose theme parks, adored animated characters and popular cartoon videos have cemented its reputation for wholesome family fun. Caravan Pictures is an independent Disney production company which makes movies that Disney then distributes.

``Disney guards its reputation vigorously and judiciously,″ said Jeffrey Logsdon, an entertainment analyst with the Seidler Cos., a Los Angeles financial firm.

Asked how the ``Powder″ disclosure would affect Disney, Logsdon paused and said, ``I don’t know how to respond.″

Winters has no hesitation. It was in making a movie that Salva molested him and Salva has essentially returned to the scene of the crime, he argues.

Disney has ``let a child rapist walk out of jail and is giving him millions of dollars to make a movie,″ Winters said. ``I can’t believe it’s Disney. Do they not know that he just got out of jail recently?″

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