Updated: Mar 12, 2019
Last Sunday and Monday on March 3rd & 4th 2019 aired an HBO film entitled Leaving Neverland. This documentary focuses on two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by the singer Michael Jackson. The documentary portray's the emotional and mental effects, the years of living in silence, fear, and lies, and eventual facing of the truth where both men begin to speak to the world of what happened to them. The film is available to watch on the 4oD Catch Up App.
This is a harrowing & extremely difficult documentary to watch. Even having worked as a Social Worker for numerous years & experiencing both children and adults disclose sexual abuse I still found this very intense. I watched it over the weekend and there was no doubt in my mind that these two men were telling the truth. Both these men‘s stories closely mirror those of Jordie Chandler and Gavin Arvizo the 13-year-old whose allegations prompted the 2005 trial . So many details of each case were the same: the targeting of boys from troubled families, the skillful grooming, the gifts, the seduction, the way abuse was performed, the fear and threats of what would befall them if they ever told anyone what Jackson had done.
Michael Jackson‘s hardcore supporters allege that Wade & James memorised details from the other boys’ stories in order to get revenge after their own previous attempts to sue Jackson’s estate for damages were thrown out of court . That seems completely far-fetched to me. Why would anyone put himself through this? The men are not being paid by HBO. They had to come to grips not only with what happened to them but also with the complicity of those closest to them. That kind of stress can and does destroy families. Anyone who has spent time hearing victims tell their stories of sexual assault knows that it is extremely painful to recall detail after detail.
Even with out the statements from these Men and their families these futher facts are enough to protray Michael‘s pedophilic beahaviour. At age 34 slept more than 30 nights in a row with one of the accusers. So far five boys whom MJ shared a bed with have made accusations . MJ paid a $25 million settlement to the Chandlers Lawsuit in 2005. One of the accusers was able to accuartately draw MJ’s genetils which was confirmed by investigators. The hallway leading to MJ’s bedroom was a serious security zone. Found in MJs home was collection of adult erotic material.
I also watched Oprah's interview titled After Neverland where she interviews both men soon after the documentary aired. You can watch that here.
In the words of Oprah this documentary transcends Michael Jackson as it allows us to see the devastating realities of child sexual abuse and grooming that we are refusing to look at. Oprah makes reference to the fact that when people show support to these men there will be a backlash but that it has to be talked about. When I posted the documentary on my instagram stories over the weekend I received backlash. I knew this would happen but we cannot be afraid to raise these topics for if we do more victims will suffer. I became a social worker to help and work with children who were at risk of or experiencing abuse therefore I felt compelled to write some of my reflections about this documentary.
These are MY reflection's from my own professional experiences working with children who have been abused.
Firstly I can comprehend why it would be difficult to understand and make sense of some parts of the documentary if one didn't have an insight into the effects that grooming, psychological and sexual abuse has on its victim's. However as a society I feel we all have a duty to open our eyes to these facts which I believe will encourage more victims of child sexual abuse to tell their story. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused as children. In a large percentage of these cases the victims never come forward to tell their story and live in silence for years experiencing immense pain and dysfunction. There are many reasons why victims stay silent including fear, confusion, self-blame and loyalty conflicts.
From watching Oprah's interview with the two men it becomes clear that for both men Confusion, Fear and Loyalty were some of the reasons for number one why they made false statements in the trial in 2005 and also why they took so long to come out and tell their stories.
Many former victims of child sexual abuse are confused as to whether they were, in fact, sexually abused. As the men in Leaving Neverland explained, they did not realise they had been sexually abused until they were in their thirties. Instead, they considered what occurred between themselves and Michael Jackson as a love affair in which they consented to all the activities that occurred. This kind of thinking is common for former victims of child sexual abuse. It wasn’t until one of the young men had a child of his own that he came to realise he had happened to him. When he thought of someone doing to his son what had been done to him it suddenly dawned on him that he had been abused.
Another issue that may add to the confusion is the issue of receiving pleasure which Oprah makes reference to in the interview. Although there is often physical pain involved with child sexual abuse, it isn’t necessarily the case. For some victims, there is no physical pain at all and victims have often reported experiencing some physical pleasure, even with the most violent and sadistic types of sexual abuse. This confuses victims, causing them to believe that perhaps they gave consent or may have even instigated the sexual involvement. The reasoning goes like this, “If my body responded (a pleasurable sensation, an orgasm an erection) it must mean that I wanted it.”It is very important to understand that experiencing physical pleasure does not signify consent.
There are many legitimate reasons why former victims are afraid to tell someone that they were sexually abused, even as adults. James in particular discusses how MJ told him that if he ever told anyone both of them would be in prison for the rest of their lives. Both men also discussed how they were afraid of the consequences once the secret was out, such as it causing pain and disruption to their lives and the lives of their families; again this is not unusual.
As evidenced by the behaviour and thinking of the two young men in the documentary, some former victims still care about the perpetrator and want to protect them. James mentioned that their is a sense that he still feels guilty that he is being disloyal to MJ for coming out. That shows us the power of grooming and how the perpetrator can cause such confusion that lasts long beyond childhood.
I have seen some comments online saying that some parts of the documentary seem scripted or untrue. Can you imagine sitting in front of a camera recording for 8 hours a day for three days straight about such harrowing events. To me it is no surprise that at times the men seem a bit dazed or confused. Both men are able to describe such detailed events from such early ages and the fact is that when traumatic events occur at a young age it is not unusual to either remember events with immense detail or to actually not have a clear memory of what happened or no memories at all. Such traumatic events have such a harrowing effect on the human brain.
From watching the documentary it is clear that these men's parent's had a role to play in what happened but I can' also feel that we as a society failed these men. In what society is it normal or acceptable that a grown man was allowed to befriend young boys, hold their hands in public, bring them on tour with him, send video's to them proclaiming his love and have them sleep in his own bed without another adult being present. It was accepted because he was famous and sang songs about peace and love. This is one thing that I have learned from my career in Social Work; people who sexually abuse can also do kind, good, loving and helpful things while also being capable of doing inhumane things. As Oprah says both can be true.
Before I started in this career I thought that sexual abuse only happens in far away lands, in really unstable families but sexual abuse is happening in middle class families, in the entertainment business, our schools, churches, neighbourhoods and everywhere. We cannot turn a blind eye anymore, we as citizens, parents, sisters and brothers need to understand that these things happen and we need to believe and support the victims of abuse and if you are one of the many people who continue to carry the secret of childhood sexual abuse, it is vital that you break your silence. When you don’t share the secret of child sexual abuse you don’t have the opportunity to receive the support, understanding and healing you so need and deserve.
Much Love Elaine xxx